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La Bohème, ENO

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Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

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64th Wexford Festival Opera

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Karita Mattila — Helsinki Recital
18 Nov 2010

Karita Mattila: Helsinki Recital

Ondine provides a nice bonus for fans of Karita Mattila in its recent DVD release of a 2006 Helsinki recital with accompanist Martin Katz.

Karita Mattila — Helsinki Recital

Martin Katz, piano; Karita Mattila, soprano; Ilmo Ranta, piano

Ondine ODV 4004 [DVD plus bonus CD]

$33.49  Click to buy

Besides the DVD of the full recital and encores, Ondine provides a second disc basically constituting a sampler of studio Ondine recitals from the 1990s. Ms. Mattila is in gorgeous voice in these earlier recordings, singing Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms with exquisite tone and reserved but affecting emotion, and pouring out idiomatic splendor in songs from countrymen Jean Sibelius, Toivo Kuula, and Erkki Melartin (with Ilmo Ranta at the keyboard).

But does Ondine do any favors to Ms. Mattila with the inclusion of this second disc? The voice in the 2006 recital is not the same liquid, flexible instrument heard ten years earlier. The Finnish National Opera house looks to be a relatively intimate concert space, but it’s still a hall, as opposed to the confines of a recording studio with sensitive equipment that allowed Mattila to employ a wide range of dynamic effects. The opening set of the 2006 recital, Duparc songs, often finds Mattila’s voice hardening by the middle of a song, and even a sort of Slavic thickness developing. This is less of a hindrance in the Kaija Saaraiho set “Quatre instants,” dedicated to Ms. Mattila. Here the soprano’s instrument is put to more dramatic, mechanical use. Martin Katz gets to shine in the Saaraiho music, and the director often focuses on the pianist's hands at the keyboard as he deals with wild jumps, booming bass lines and skittering steps across the high keys. At the end of the set Ms. Mattila clutches the score to her chest and then welcomes the composer to the stage. It must be quite an honor to have a preeminent contemporary composer fashion a piece for oneself; nonetheless, anyone who wants to hear this set of songs more than once has a greater appetite for the gnarly and self-consciously arty than your reviewer does.

The second half makes for a more enjoyable experience, with that Slavic tinge put to fine use in some lovely Rachmaninoff settings and then the Dvořäk “Gipsy Songs.” Your reviewer actually saw a 2003 recital appearance by Ms. Mattila, in a shamefully under-attended recital at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles back in 2003. The program was virtually the same, only with the cherishable exception of Sibelius songs in place of the not-yet-completed Saaraiho. As fine an actress as Ms. Mattila can be, she does enjoy well-considered effects, and after a few years of doing this recital set, it seems fair to say that any spontaneity has gone out of the evening. She did the same tacky but fun encore back then (Victor Young’s “Golden Earrings”), as well as the sweet Finnish traditional that closes the evening. In Helsinki Ms. Mattila looks stunning, it should be noted, almost uncomfortably smooth-faced and glamorized in hair and make-up. The porcelain surface of her face barely creases, no matter how much effort she brings to certain passages.

Ondine’s presentation is immaculate, and the camerawork couldn’t be better, as we enter the gorgeous Helsinki house form outside and see the handsome crowd gather in the lobby, champagne glasses in hand. Your reviewer would have preferred subtitles to the translated texts in the booklet, but some people love nothing more than to rustle programs at a recital, so here’s their chance to do it at home.

If the DVD recital slightly disappoints, therefore, rejoice in the artistry caught forever in the bonus disc of Ms. Mattila’s 1990s recordings.

Chris Mullins

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