Unlike, say, his Frühlingsfeier, there's no *bang* in Strauss' Four Last Songs, no point of dramatic concentration for Karita Mattila to do her thing. Strauss here actually employs the opposite aesthetic: dramatic dissolution, where personality fades into refined twilit sensation. As such the cycle's been best served by those whose personality seemed liable to float off into the ether in the first place, most notably Lisa della Casa (but also more reserved, sound-based sopranos like Gundula Janowitz and Kiri te Kanawa).
Mattila's CD version (on the same disc as that remarkable Frühlingsfeier) plainly showed, if I recall correctly (my collection is otherwise engaged), the mismatch, with her strong sound and presence just overpowering the delicacies of the songs. Friday's Carnegie Hall concert with Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra found her more accomodating, but with still-mixed results. The lightening of sound and purpose (though there was one Mattila Moment in "Beim Schlafengehen") worked well enough to suggest Strauss' concept, but she therefore didn't make much impact, and the words often didn't register over the orchestra. Long stretches might as well have been by some nameless soprano, not the star actually onstage. A waste, I think; there's other Strauss I'd much rather hear from her.
Anyone tired of the recent slow-as-possible school of VLL accompaniment for which Christoph Eschenbach -- whom, incidentally, I (like Steve Smith) think was ill-treated in Philly -- is the poster boy would enjoy the precise, clear, and fairly brisk approach that Jansons brought to the accompaniment. It only lacked, from the orchestra, really refined transparency of texture. The songs were followed by an account of the Rosenkavalier Suite that started so-so -- so cleanly done, but Jansons won't let a balancing relaxation enter waltz phrases -- but was capped by a heartfelt and deeply un-dry account of the Trio. Jansons isn't, it seems, a natural Strauss conductor, but he has his virtues.
An excellent evening, almost despite Mattila's contribution.
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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.