National Symphony Orchestra, led by Andreas Delfs, offers soaring Strauss songs with Karita Mattila
The originally scheduled season-ending National Symphony program this week was to have included the orchestra's first performances of Strauss' Three Hymns and Rautavaara's Manhattan Trilogy, along with a more standard item by Strauss, Also sprach Zarathustra. When Finnish-born conductor Mikko Franck had to cancel and German-born Andreas Delfs took the gig, only Zarauthstra remained on the lineup.
Losing those rarities is a pity, to be sure, but the revised program is eminently appealing nonetheless. For one thing, the substitution for Three Hymns is the same composer's Four Last Songs, and I'll never complain about hearing them; they're right up near the top of my absolute favorite pieces of music. And, happily, the soloist hasn't changed -- the striking Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, who's plenty of a draw on her own. Taking the Rautavaara slot is ...
So, for the most part, was the music-making Thursday evening at the Kennedy Center. (There will be repeats Friday and Saturday.)
Mattila's account of Strauss' swan songs was particularly impressive for the weight and solidity of her tone. Others may produce subtler shades in these pieces, but Mattila filled the concert hall with a gleaming sound the rode easily above the lush orchestration. And excellent breath control allowed her to sculpt long phrases with ease.
Interpretively, if a little more nuance would have been welcome, the soprano communicated the twilight-filtered texts quite powerfully just the same. Delfs handled his side of things persuasively; his spacious treatment of the orchestral close to Im Abendrot, that sublime, closing-of-the-eyes passage, gave particular pleasure. The NSO, fresh from its visit to China and Korea, encountered a rough patch or two, but produced a fundamentally rich sound and phrased with admirable expressive warmth.
There was much to savor in Zarathustra as well. Delfs had the score unfolding vividly. The strings summoned a good deal of sheen and vibrancy; the woodwinds and brass did some very potent work. This was quite a hot performance that should get even tighter in the subsequent concerts.
It was delightful to hear the Delius score, which has its own nearly Straussian lyricism, with some Debussy-like refinement of palette. The composer deserves much more attention, and this gentle, unhurried performance offered a keen reminder of what we're missing.
PHOTOS OF KARITA MATTILA AND ANDREAS DELFS COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA