Karita Mattila / Martin Katz; Sarah Connolly / Eugene Asti; Angelika Kirchschlager / Ian Bostridge / Julius Drake; Artemis Quartet - Wigmore Hall, 10 - 14 September 2010
Wigmore Hall's 110th anniversary season is made of awesome, with recitals coming up from just about everyone you could possibly want to hear, including rare visitors like Jonas Kaufmann, Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim.
But the season's opening weekend was almost derailed by illness, with both Karita Mattila and Angelika Kirchschlager suffering from colds. Kirchschlager's was so bad she cancelled her scheduled appearance on the Saturday, eventually appearing - only partially recovered - on Monday.
Mattila though managed to struggle through the opening night, her first Wigmore appearance in 13 years. Looking at her, you'd never guess anything was wrong. Show-stoppingly glamorous as ever, though sporting rather more clothes than the 1994 shot above, for the first half she wore a backless chartreuse grecian gown with crystal-encrusted straps. She switched to the same style in black for the second.
But in her opening numbers, Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder, her throat was tight, her tone occluded, and too many notes not quite spot-on. A look of deep concentration on her face made it clear how hard she was working. The line seemed to sit more easily for her in the following Brahms selection. The voice still wasn't quite right, but she loosened up physically and vocally, ending the first half with operatically-scaled flourish few others would dare in Von ewiger Liebe.
Not being a Finnish speaker, I can only guess Mattila sang Illalle perfectly in her native tongue. But its splintered mouthfuls of consonants make it inherently less musical than the Swedish of her remaining Sibelius choices. Despite Mattila's efforts, I didn't care much for either.
The best was saved for last. Cold or not, her voice is just made for Strauss. She floated dreamily through Wiegenlied, immaculate breath control sustaining line after endless line. Perhaps her tone was more semi-skimmed than creamy, but in the circumstances it was a valiant effort. A totally committed Allerseelen and Frühlingsfeier ended the recital with a combination of exquisite sensitivity and heart-on-sleeve fierceness that only Mattila could pull off. She returned - daring her voice to last out just a couple of minutes longer - for what else but Zueignung, dedicating it to (of course) the audience.
The following night, Angelika Kirchschlager should have been providing the Wigmore's customary alternative to the ghastly Last Night of the Proms. Sarah Connolly and Eugene Asti stepped in at the last minute to cover for her illness. Connolly may be a less starry name but she arguably has the edge on Kirchschlager technically, so it was a shame to see so many empty seats. Oh well, more free opening weekend wine in the interval, then.
I'd imagined Connolly was a bit too serious an artist to swap frocks in the interval, but lo, the black draped gown was replaced by an emerald number with applique flowers for the second half. Nothing remotely frivolous about the programme though - Schumann in the first half, English songs in the second. All very elegantly and decorously done, with Asti proving a sympathetic accompanist. As a team player on the opera stage, Connolly has few equals. But much as I love her voice and admire her artistry, there's something too self-effacing in her manner to convince totally on the recital platform.
I skipped Sunday night at the Wigmore for Don Pasquale at Covent Garden (yeah, great choice), but returned on Monday for to catch the partially-recovered Angelika Kirchschlager tackle Wolf's Spanisches Liederbuch together with Ian Bostridge.
I've never heard the whole thing in one recital, and it does make for a long and somewhat uneven evening. Bostridge took the lion's share of the singing, his intense manner and idiosyncratic delivery more suited to some songs than others. His voice has become more powerful and evenly-projected in recent months, but in the process has reduced what was already a limited colour palette. This led to a degree of monotony, compounded by the fact that a few of the songs in this book are not quite top-drawer Wolf anyway.
Kirchschlager's warm, sunny tones provided a welcome contrast, particularly in the Hispanically-inflected songs of the book's second half. Although she was clearly not at her best, coughing away between numbers, she actually, bizarrely, sounded better than she has in recent Wigmore recitals. Only Julius Drake's impatient and often overloud accompaniment drew unwelcome attention to itself.
Finally, on Tuesday, the Artemis Quartet gave us a couple of early Beethoven quartets (Op. 18 Nos. 5 and 2) and one mid-period one (the E minor Razumovsky Op. 59 No. 2). Perhaps because they all (cellist apart) perform standing up their playing, even when slow, had a tremendous sense of energy and forward momentum.