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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Höstkväll, op.38/1 (5:16), Soluppgång, op.37/3 (2:00), Se'n har ja ej frågat mera, op.17/1 (2:15), Arioso, op.3 (4:24), Våren flyktar hastigt, op.13/4 (1:37)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Solveigs sang, op.23/19 (4:58), Solveigs vuggesang (4:26), Fra Monte Pincio, op.39/1 (4:50), En svane, op.25/2 (2:16), Våren, op.33/2 (4:45)

Luonnotar, op.70 (9:44)

Det første mode (3:57)

Sancta Maria, mild och nåderik (from "Jungfrun i tornet") (4:27), Den judiska flickans sång (from "Belsazar") (3:20)
Karita Mattila (soprano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Recorded October-November 2001, Symphony Hall, Birmingham
WARNER CLASSICS 8573 80243-2 [58:22]


Over twenty years have passed since Karita Mattila won the 1983 "Voices of the World" competition in Cardiff, since when she has become a much loved figure with the public, at least in Great Britain, but rather less so with the critics, the implication being that she is a sort of Finnish Kiri Te Kanawa, blessed with a wonderful voice (no one denies this) and an engaging personality which somehow does not transform into an equally engaging musical personality; rather, she is content to stand there sounding (and, if the photographs tell a true tale, looking) beautiful without attempting any deep penetration of the music she is singing.

And Iím afraid this disc does nothing to suggest the critics have got it wrong. Maybe if you donít make comparisons you will just bathe in the golden stream of sound Ė though you might note that, like Te Kanawa, she tends towards a too-tubular "O" on the high notes no matter what vowel she is supposed to be singing, and also that her intonation is suspect in the unaccompanied passage in "Höstkväll" Ė and my own first reaction was, if you have a voice this beautiful, why labour the point? And indeed, in "Luonnotar" Mattilaís operatic amplitude may arguably be preferable to Berglundís thinner, if purer-toned, Taru Valjakka.

But Katarina Karnéus and Anne Sofie von Otter have very beautiful voices too, and how different they are in the brief "Våren flyktar hastigt". With Karnéus we have a sense of foreboding, leading to a sudden moment of passion on the climactic high note while the final phrase "let us now kiss" is whispered but cherished. Von Otter is more intimate, finding an irony in the final pay-off. Both in their ways provide a specific point of view, each has interpreted the scene according to her own personal outlook and has (I imagine) put something of herself in it. What does Mattila bring? Nothing very much, quite honestly, with a somewhat over-hefty operatic high note into the bargain. And it has to be said that, though Sibeliusís magical ear for orchestral colour is everywhere in evidence, these songs are no less magical in their original piano garb.

In Grieg we have to make comparisons with the orchestral versions recorded under Neeme Järvi with Barbara Bonney as soloist. In "En Svane" Mattila is sumptuous as ever and Bonney has a different, lighter sort of voice, equally beautiful and more suited to the intimate nature of the music. She and Järvi have noticed that Grieg has marked a "poco animato" in bar 9 and they let the music move ahead to a passionate but not heavy "agitato" at bar 17. Mattila and Oramo evidently think that such markings, like speed limits and no parking signs, are there for others to observe, and try to build up the song by sheer weight of tone. Unfortunately Grieg is not Wagner and they just get bogged down. How much more affective, too, is Bonneyís rapt but swifter reading of "Det første mode", how much clearer are her grace-notes at bar 12 and how lovely her alternative high notes in the second stanza (ignored by Mattila) sound.

I could go on, for I had alternative versions of most of the pieces. But since the comparisons pointed the same way in every case, I feel I have said enough. In short, itís a very beautiful voice singing some very beautiful music, but itís not the whole story. There are good notes, texts and translation, the recording is excellent and Oramo obtains suitably Nordic timbres from the Birmingham orchestra.

Christopher Howell

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