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S & H Concert Review

Samling Foundation Gala Concert

: Thomas Allen, Patricia MacMahon, Malcolm Martineau, Simon Over, Samling Scholars. St. John’s Smith Square, Thursday 19th September 2002. (ME)


The Samling Foundation describes its main objective as being ‘…to bring together established international artists with highly talented young musicians and visual artists, and to provide them with a sympathetic environment where they can work, perform, exhibit and, above all, be inspired.’ A most laudable aim, and as Thomas Allen’s lively, articulate introduction made clear, the Foundation is thriving, and this concert gave ample evidence both of the generosity of spirit behind the idea, and the kind of musical talent which it seeks to nurture.

As so often happens with events involving many personnel, some of those billed to appear were indisposed, but their replacements provided much musical pleasure; in any case, I’m a bit dubious about the likes of Lisa Milne being regarded as a rookie, and the same goes for Jonathan Lemalu, although he seems to crop up in just about every guise known to concert-going London at the moment. The first half was built up of little bits and pieces of arias and Lieder, and began, ambitiously, with the American tenor Eric Rieger’s account of ‘Si, ritrovarla’ from ‘Cenerentola.’ Mr. Rieger is not Juan Diego Florez, and one hopes that he has no desire to be, since his instrument, although agile and beautiful, is not really in the florid mould, lacking the essential ‘ping’ for this music, but this is a lovely tenor voice and a winning personality who will go a long way on both the recital platform and the opera stage.

Lisa Milne’s replacements were the very young Bibi Heal and the experienced Sally Matthews; the former sang ‘Die Forelle’ very sweetly but without much character, and the latter a very leisurely ‘Morgen,’ superbly accompanied by Malcolm Martineau. Rather more characterful singing came from Leigh Woolf in two fine, spirited Mendelssohn performances, and of course from Lemalu in Finzi’s ‘Channel Firing’ and ‘Before and After Summer.’ One had only to hear the opening lines, ‘That night your great guns, unawares, Shook all our coffins as we lay,…’ to be aware that here is a voice in a thousand, sonorous, dramatic and used with intelligence and musicality; this is the fourth time I’ve heard him within a year, and I’m still impressed although a little concerned that he may be taking on too much, and this concern was borne out by his seeming lack of preparation for the Brahms ‘Liebeslieder’ which closed the first half. None of the singers seemed at ease here, and Lemalu appeared rather distant for much of the time, but things took a distinctly more positive tone after the interval.

The second half was mainly operatic, commencing with a lively performance of the Sextet from Act 2 of ‘Don Giovanni,’ with Thomas Allen showing a refreshing lack of self-importance by singing Masetto, and Lemalu revealing his natural aptitude for a part such as Leporello. There was some really delightful singing from Allen and Patricia MacMahon in Messager’s ‘Trot here and there,’ and Rieger and Matthews in ‘La la la la la’ from ‘L’Elisir,’ but the hit of the whole evening was Allen and Lemalu in ‘Cheti,Cheti’ (‘Don Pasquale’) with baritone and bass-baritone competing to see who could pull off the most ripe characterization; it was a near – run thing, it has to be said – as Allen remarked, tongue only slightly in cheek, ‘Well, I’ll be able to say I sang with Jonathan Lemalu!’ A most entertaining evening, with a pleasing mixture of both well known and less familiar, both in terms of repertoire and personnel.


Melanie Eskenazi

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