This was the best concert I have been to in months – exciting, beautifully rendered, balls-to-the-wall Lieder singing from the very first song. I had never heard Mattila live before, and I now wish I had more opportunities to do so – her voice is stunning. It’s bigger than I expected from recordings; part of me wished I had been able to sit closer to as to see more of her acting up close (I was in the back row of the balcony) but I think that aurally back center of the hall was perfect.
And it was so nice to go to a concert that does not consist of songs I have heard a thousand times before! Familiar material, but not too much so. The first set was Brahms’s Ziguenerlieder (Gypsy Songs). Mattila threw herself into these both vocally and physically; I realized when I opened my eyes somewhere around ‘Wißt ihr, wann mein Kindchen” that by not watching I was missing out.
I have heard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder a few times before, but I never listened to them with the same attention as I did last night. Among the high points here was the final song, “Träume,” (“Dreams”) which was spellbinding, from the moment the vocal line steps quietly out of the piano part until it sinks away again at the final lines of the text. Afterwards, I kept trying to put into words the feeling of when a song performance really clicks. I have a sense of being able to follow what is being expressed, even if it is in a language I don’t know, or don’t know well enough to understand every word; I also get an impression of the song, or at least the vocal line, holding itself together – there’s a feeling of wholeness. Whatever it was, and however you want to describe it, there was plenty of it in this concert.
After intermission, Mattila sang Berg’s Four Songs, Op. 2. The more I hear live performances of Berg’s songs, the more I like them. Here, with the first one, “Dem Schmerz sein Recht,” every note seemed to fall perfectly into place (I have in my notes “this just gets better and better”); the entire set was over far too quickly, and when we’d moved on to Strauss I wished for a moment that we could stay in Berg world for a while more.
Mattila’s stage presence is lively, funny and extremely energetic, and she certainly knows how to butter up her audience. She introduced her encore, a jazz (I think?) song called “Eine kleine Sehnsucht” with the observation that she had learned a new English word recently, “yearning,” and that this song perfectly expressed her yearning to come to New York again – “but in German, of course.” She delivered the song with the sort of style and sparkle that in retrospect I think Renée Fleming was going for in her similarly jazzy encore the other night, but didn’t (by comparison) quite nail. Mattila nailed it.