Karita Mattila & Bryan Wagorn
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Karita Mattila & Bryan Wagorn

Ravinia Festival

KARITA MATTILA POSSESSES ONE OF THOSE glamorous, larger than life personalities that are as rare as they are welcome on our concert stages today; a presence that dominates the hall yet is infused with graciousness and obvious intelligence of a very high order.  The soprano’s singular panache and trenchant musicianship were both in glorious estate on August 10 at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre, in a recital of French, German, and Finnish song.

The program was bookended by two groups of familiar German Lied. Mattila displayed her signature emotional commitment in a traversal from the straightforward exuberance of the Brahms “Meine Liebe ist grün,” through a gently-floated “Wiegenlied,”and a “Von ewiger Liebe” loaded with gravitas (and which nicely revealed the soprano’s considerable weight in middle range) to an icily coy “Vergebliches Ständchen.” Her voice was possibly most effectively displayed in her Strauss selections; particularly in a reading of the “Wiegenlied,” which was dispatched with great lyricism and a hint of glinting shimmer that still graces the soprano’s upper register. She then wielded a formidable amplitude of sound in a thrilling account of “Frühlingsfeier,” with its visceral cries of “Adonis!”

The arching line of Duparc’s “Chanson triste” suited the soprano very well. Wagner’s influence (as well as Mattila’s own recent Wagnerian experience) was quite telling in her renderings of the French composer’s “Au pays où se fait la guerre” and “Phidylé,” which immediately followed.

Mattila’s Finnish selections — four songs by Sibelius and a gripping reading of Sallinen’s cycle Neljä laulua unesta Op. 30 — were the highlight of the evening. Mattila has spoken in interviews of her special joy in presenting the music of her native country, and that passion was everywhere apparent here. The Sibelius “Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings mote” was especially compelling as she movingly traced the girl’s ecstasy at the flush of first love, only to discover the desolation of betrayal.  Mattila delivered some amusing patter from the stage regarding the melancholy atmosphere so predominate in this music, and noted that at least one of the Sibelius songs (the bittersweet “Vären flyktar hastigt”) was happy enough, “Although,” she quipped roguishly, “that one is very short!”

Encores included more Strauss and a bit of Merikanto. Mattila was deftly partnered throughout by the excellent young pianist Bryan Wagorn, who projected a delightful personality of his own while offering his soloist solid, sensitive accompaniment. Wagorn’s handing of the rippling counterpoint in the Duparc “Phidylé” was exquisitely done. Mattila herself remains one of the most beautiful women on the stage today, and was radiant in crimson lace with silver fichu for the program’s first half, and chic black décolleté in the second. This was a lovely recital, and a treasurable opportunity to spend time with a beloved singer in the intimate confines of the Martin. —Mark Thomas Ketterson 

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