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CD Feature/ Karita Mattila: "Helsinki Recital"

img  Tobias

There are very few singers out there who take the word “versatile” as literally as Karita Mattila: Opera and recital, lieder and songs, classical, contemporary and Jazz sung in about eight languages and in the concert halls of New York, London, Paris and Salzburg – there are neither limits nor borders in her world. No wonder then, as this compilation of live recordings from October of last year demonstrates, that she feels equally at home in the studio and on stage.

On the other hand, it certainly appears as though no place in the world is more “home” to her than Helsinki and this recital, digitally assembled from a string of sold-out concerts, follows in the footsteps of “Karita Live!”, taped in 2000, also with locally based, yet internationally distributed label Ondine. However, the differences between these two outwardly similar discs is stunning.

While the latter CD had her jumping from one composer to the next and saw her combine Richard Wagner, Sibelius and Jules Styne (“Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend”) without any hesitations or doubts, her most recent effort takes an atmospherically more coherent approach. Henri Duparc, Sergej Rachmaninov and Antonin Dvorak represent the romantic faction and Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s “Quatre Instants” provides for the avantgardistic break – while lyrically staying close to its predecessors.

This immediately implies that “Helsinki Recital” is not exactly a great party-album. There is a pervasive gloomy and foreboding mood hanging over all pieces. To be more exact, an air of depression lingers underneath these slow dirges, which even in their most exultant and jubilant moments seem to have difficulty breathing. One of Duparc’s songs is programmatically called “Chanson Triste”, one of Dvorak’s “Silent and lone the woods around”, while Rachmnaninov would even like to hide away from music alltogether: “Oh, do not sing to me, fair maden, those sad songs from Georgia; they recall to me another life and distant shores.” And we haven’t even touched upon Saariaho yet and tracks with titles such as “Longing” and “Torment”.

Where emotions turn extreme, the danger of falling headlong into a bed of cliches is enormous. On the other hand, Mattila rightly felt obliged to stay true to her repertoire and leave the painful character of the songs intact. Her solution lies in uncovering a second layer and in lifting the tracks to a spiritual plane. We all suffer for a reason, she seems to say, and hitting rock bottom means being one step closer to god.

The ace up her sleeve is pianist Martin Katz. His otherwordly and ghostly playing, which sometimes sounds like curtains being moved by invisible hands in the light of a full moon, is the ideal basis for Karita Mattila’s dramatic performance. She rips the flesh off the bones of the music, shreds its volatile tissue to pieces. It may not the most lyrical or beautiful event to whitness. But it surely is an act of great intensity and energy.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ondine Records

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