Since her triumph in the 1983 Cardiff Singer of the
World Competition, the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila has scaled the
ladder to become a much sought-after singer. Live, she is magnificent;
on record, hardly less so - as the present recording so amply demonstrates.
The arias chosen focus on the solo lament, described
by Mike Ashman in his booklet notes as 'a moment of internal conflict
caused by the drama of the libretto. It was invariably a vehicle for
a display of both vocal and dramatic virtuosity on the part of the performer'.
Interestingly, Mattila places the concert aria Ah!
perfido, Op. 65, after 'Abscheulicher!'. True, the excerpt from Fidelio
is an impressive opener, but Ah perfido (1796) was composed as a study
for the forthcoming opera. Despite a very expressive beginning to 'Abscheulicher!',
one sometimes gets the impression that Mattila is luxuriating in the
sound of her own voice, an effect which leaves the listener at a remove
from the real emotions of the situation, an impression which recurs
throughout the recital. Try Nilsson on Decca ‘The Singers’ 467 912-2
(see my review) for an example of true vocal greatness. Colin Davis's
accompaniment for Mattila interestingly highlights the proto-Weber aspects
of this music, and in doing so plays down its Beethovenian heart. There
is no doubting, however, the prowess of the Dresden horns on this recording,
whose rich sound suits the piece perfectly.
Mattila is very expressive in Ah! Perfido, and Davis
follows her beautifully in the initial moments. Again, however, Mattila
and Davis fail to get to the heart of the piece.
While Mendelssohn's 'Infelice!', Op. 94 is an attractive
piece which simultaneously provides an impressive close to the recital,
it does not plumb the depths that some of the other items on the disc
explore. The Weber excerpts (from 'Der Freischütz', 'Oberon' and
'Euryanthe') really provide the focal point to the disc, and may even
provide some revelations. Here Mattila is completely inside the music:
try Agate's Scene and Aria, 'Wie nahte mir der Schlummer' to enjoy Mattila's
seamless legato and expressive characterisation. Weber's writing is
intrinsically dramatic and stageworthy, and it is to Mattila's credit
that the Cavatina, 'Und ob die Wolke sie verhulle' is, if anything,
even more impressive (a special mention should also go to the expressive
solo cello here).
'Ocean! thou mighty monster' returns the programme
to more familiar territory (Mattila chooses to perform this item in
English). Heard as part of a concert, this would surely raise the roof.
The Wagnerian side to this piece is clearly emphasised here. Perhaps
most impressive, though, is the still, desolate and moving 'So bin ich
nun verlassen' from 'Euryanthe'.
Recommended with much enthusiasm, therefore. Sometimes
Davis could do (as so often) with an injection of fire into his conducting,
it is true, but there remains plenty to enjoy from the Dresdeners, and
Mattila is simply radiant.