Forces of Nature
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center
01/27/2011 - & January 28, 29, February 1*, 2011
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Opus 93 – Ah, Perfido, Recitative and Aria, Opus 65
Jean Sibelius: Höstkväll, Opus 38, No. 1 – Arioso, Opus 3 – Våren flyktar hastigt, Opus 13, No. 4
Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 2 “The Four Temperaments”, Opus 16
Karita Mattila (Soprano)
New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert (Conductor)
K. Mattila (© Lauri Eriksson/Warner Classics International)
A current commercial for 3D television shows a flock of bluebirds flying off the video screen into a real living room. When Finnish soprano Karita Mattila sings, her voice flies off the stage, into our real Avery Fisher Hall on wings of song.
Not the volume of the voice (which is considerable), or the dazzling frame from which it comes (Ms. Mattila, donned in fire-engine red or ebony black, is almost the height of conductor Alan Gilbert on his dais). Rather, it is the emotional power gripping the listeners. Her voice lures us like a Siren, and then it strikes each one of us, coiling about, winding around our bodies, embracing us, gently stroking us like giant vines, and then, like a boa constrictor, that astounding voice holds us in our grip.
And then it’s all over. When she finishes, she laughs off that spell, she vivaciously hugs and kisses the Concertmaster and the conductor, laughs, waves, does an encore.
A force of nature on the opera stage, making every other singer look like am acting-school amateur, Ms. Mattila had two chances with the New York Philharmonic this week. The first was Beethoven’s dramatic concert aria, Ah, Perfido, the composer’s self-conscious paean to a lover’s pain. It’s a good show-piece for any aspiring singer, but is very much a piece of its late 18th Century time.
From her first stentorian notes, to her growling “Vedrò le mie vendette” (“I will see vengeance come about!”), she roared the exposition, softening only for the aria, asking for pity.
But Ms Mattila then showed one of the best-kept secrets of the Sibelius canon: his songs. Most of them are, like his piano pieces, the stuff of antimacassars and dusty salons. But a dozen are gorgeous and haunting.
I first heard them in Bangkok, of all places, where mezzo Kerstin Meyer devoted an evening to lieder by Rachmaninoff and Sibelius. I had never heard the Sibelius and, while Ms. Meyer’s voice was not terribly powerful, it was a revelation. And a revelation not to be repeated until last night, since the songs are rarely sung in New York (Two of the three had their premieres this week.)
Ms. Mattila, though, has not only the power, but the temperament, the mood, the Finnish psyche where this flat beautiful land holds shadows and surprises. Where, in Autumn Evening, “in a desolate place, against a damp rock, a wanderer stands enchanted.” This against the far-off roars of trombones and horns. The other two songs were less in that brilliant Sibelius mode, but Ms. Mattila sung with a strength in feeling as much as liquid and striking tones.
Her two sections of the program were bookended by two symphonies written 90 years apart yet with much in common.
Both Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony and Carl Nielsen’s Second Symphony were written for pure enjoyment. Calling the Eighth one of Beethoven’s “minor” symphonies is like calling Osetra caviar a minor dish compared to Beluga. When conducted by Alan Gilbert, it was a joyful romp, not Beethoven at his most profound, but Beethoven at his most cheerful.
The end, though, was another unfairly rare offering, a Nielsen symphony. One can flippantly satirize his appellations, (“The Nauseating Symphony”, “The Obnoxious Symphony”, “The Ridiculous Symphony”), but one can’t ever ridicule Nielsen’s enthusiasm, spirit, lovely melodies and sudden percussive shock waves.
“The Four Temperaments” plays the quartet of moods, but even without those names, this is a gorgeous work, The third movement is compared by conductor Gilbert to Elgar, but Nielsen never even skirts Elgar’s woodland dreaminess. The direction is Andante malincolico, but nothing is melancholy.
How nice it would be for the conductor to give us all the symphonies over a period of months. Mr. Gilbert has the spirit and fire and enthusiasm for all six symphonies and the concertos and overtures as well.
Such hidden treasures, with Ms Mattila unearthing more Sibelius gems are rich dreams and natural treasures.