Der Rosenkavalier – Suite
Vier letzte Lieder
Ein Heldenleben, Op.40
Karita Mattila (soprano)
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 12 April, 2014
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
The Munich Philharmonic impressed with its lush string sound, idiomatic woodwinds, and solid brass and percussion. Such qualities were displayed to best effect in Ein Heldenleben, Luisi leading an energetic performance. Strauss himself recorded this score, taking about 40 minutes and slightly rushing the lyrical sections. In contrast, many subsequent conductors (Carlos Kleiber being an exception) often yield to the temptation of wallowing in the beauty of the music, extending it considerably. Luisi, at just-under 44 minutes, combined the best of both worlds. He led a spirited portrayal of a young man’s exploits at the opening, the critics (‘The Hero’s Adversaries’) bickered viciously, and a boisterous ‘Battle’ scene led to a sonorous climax. But Luisi also allowed time for Sreten Krstič to expansively and artistically shape his violin solos depicting ‘The Hero’s Companion’ (Strauss’s wife, Pauline), and for a serene ‘The Hero’s Works of Peace’. And, finally, a transcendent ‘The Hero’s Retreat from the World’ was infused with warmth and nostalgia, Krstič and principal horn Jörg Brückner tenderly exchanging phrases over a cushion of soft string chords.
In Four Last Songs, Luisi’s rather brisk tempos did not convince in the first three, and, combined with Karita Mattila’s extroverted interpretation, one missed the music’s suggestion of detachment from the world. Thus the violin solo in ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ (Going to Sleep), although again played beautifully, could not unfold naturally; and the usually spine-tingling moment which follows – the voice riding over a great swell of sound – went by without making much of an impression in spite of the power and luster of Mattila’s singing. She is a wonderfully expressive artist in the opera house, but by adding inflections and inflations to individual notes here she failed to spin forth the long lines which give these Lieder their special character of sentiment and simplicity. In addition, her diction was so indistinct that the texts were nearly impossible to understand, unless a word, like “Nacht”, stood out as she went into chest register. Only when reaching the final Song, ‘Im Abendrot’ (At Sunset), did one feel that the proper atmosphere of peace and serenity had been established, Mattila connecting with the music’s intimate character and ending with a glimpse of eternity.