Reviews
Walter Waugaman
Here is the review from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Posted on Sat, Jan. 16, 2010

Soprano Karita Mattila with Phila. Orchestra
By Peter Dobrin
Inquirer Classical Music Critic
Richard Strauss penned dozens of orchestral songs, but somehow the Philadelphia Orchestra keeps coming back to that dearly held group known as the Four Last Songs. Most recently, the big gust of Alessandra Marc and the honest voices of Barbara Hendricks and Pamela Coburn have taken on these autumnal, tenderly transcendent settings of poems by Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff.

The much-heralded Finnish soprano Karita Mattila made her orchestra debut with the Four Last Songs Thursday night with an interpretation not likely to please everyone. Mattila has a gorgeous sound, and no troubles with presence. And for a while, that was enough. But as she worked her way through Hesse's glistening spring, waning summer, a soul freed for a night's journey, and Eichendorff's unexpected rendering of death as peace, you started to listen for the singer to knit the music to meaning, and there wasn't much to be found. Her sound didn't change color to emphasize a thought or add emotional complexity. It was hard to make out her words. Even the opening phrase of the third song, the one that starts quite clearly with "Nun der Tag . . .," could barely be discerned.

It wasn't so much that Mattila was cool (which some have said of her, and only sometimes pejoratively), it's that her presentation seemed to say her sonic value was all this piece needed. For many, I'm sure that was enough; for me, t
hat's only half the power of lieder.

On the podium, to the surprise of some listeners, was not Jirí Belohlávek, who was ill, but Juanjo Mena. Without Belohlávek, out went the orchestra's first performance of Martinu's Symphony No. 3, replaced by Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in a performance that, though able, hardly justified itself as a special interpretive statement. It was rather slow, which at least cleared the floor in spots to once again marvel at principal oboist Richard Woodhams, whose sound and personality are more alive than ever. Listeners should savor this moment in the orchestra's personnel evolution. Here's a musician whose unfettered facility always animates a phrase with meaning. Not a note sounds that isn't exploited for its greatest possible urgency. Subtle stuff, but it's the thing that crosses the line from craft into art, and it's rare.

Similarly high concepts abounded in the "Adagio" from Mahler's Symphony No. 10. Interpretively, Mena's vision was more interested in being matter-of-fact than in illuminating any dark corners. That dissonant chord at the climax is probably the closest any human will ever come to hearing a cosmic primal scream, a tough concept for an ensemble that considers pretty sounds always to be the final destination. Still, there's plenty of pretty called for in Mahler's score, and the orchestra, individually and collectively, knew just what to do.

My additional comments:

I don't completely agree with the comments about soprano Karita Mattila. I successfully followed her in the libretto except for several places in the first two songs where I lost my place but in every instance I was able to find it again at least in the next line. It seemed to me that the reason for this was that the orchestra was a little too loud. I didn't notice this nearly as much in the last two songs.

I totally agree with the comments about Richard Woodhams in the Beethoven. There was a statement by the oboe early in the first movement that seemed to set the stage for delicately and finely wrought dynamics in phrasing that the whole orchestra followed afterwards. It seemed to me that the comments about Richard woodhams applied equally to principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales, Principal Bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa, associate principal flutist David Cramer who played principal flute in this piece, principal hornist Jennifer Montone, and the entire first violin section.

I noticed that the tempo in the Beethoven was slower than I seem to remember in under other conductors but I liked it. I think this was probably the best performance that I have ever heard or at least a long time.
Posted on 17 Jan 2010, 6:18 AM
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