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Seen and Heard Recital Review


Dvorák, Barber, R. Strauss Sally Matthews (soprano); Simon Lepper (piano). Wigmore Hall, 18 April, 2005 (CC)

Up-and-coming soprano Sally Matthews chose an appealing set of songs for her Wigmore lunchtime recital, and brought them off with real confidence. In fact, the only touch of nerves apparent was at the beginning of Dvorák’s Písne milostné (‘Love Songs’, Op. 83, 1865-88), perhaps initially over-vibrato-ed and with some diction not 100% clear. Matthews sang in good if not perfect Czech.

Dvorák’s songs dwell on unrequited love, and both Matthews and her excellently sensitive accompanist Simon Lepper (an official accompanist for this year’s Cardiff Singer of the World competition) brought out the sense of longing well. Matthews has a good sense of line that stood her in good stead here (with the sixth song, ‘Zde v lese u potoka’ – ‘Here in the forest by a brook’, demonstrating her strength in the lower register).

Barber’s Hermit Songs, Op. 29 (1952) gave Matthews a chance to show what she can do in her native tongue. Barber sets texts by unknown writers of the 8th to the 13th centuries; a set of monks’ observations on life. Both Matthews and Lepper proved themselves adept at States-side simplicity of utterance (the third song especially, ‘Saint Ita’s Vision’). The elusive fifth song, ‘The Crucifixion’, held the audience to silence, while ‘The monk and his cat’ ended in an almost disturbingly seductive fashion (‘How happy we are Alone together, Scholar and cat’ – take from that what you will…). But most impressive of all was the gorgeous richness of the final ‘The desire for hermitage’. Memorable.

Finally a short selection of Richard Strauss. But temporal matters count for little when Matthews and Lepper can invoke such magnificent desolation as in ‘Ruhe, meine Seele’ (Op. 27 No. 1), or deliver such control as in the ever-popular ‘Morgen’ (Op. 27 No. 4). ‘Der Rosenband’ (Op. 36 No. 1) was delivered in the manner of story-telling. Of course top programme ‘Zueignung’ (Op. 10 No. 1) is to inevitably invoke memories of Jessye Norman, who live in this was surely without parallel. Matthews was content to bring real gentleness to the core of the song, while remaining good and string for the final thanks-givings.

Matthews’ biography tells of a forthcoming Fidelio with the LSO. One imagines her as a Marzelline (I am presuming), and a very apt and convincing one at that. She is someone to watch, that’s for sure.

Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

Dvorák: Kožená, Johnson. DG 463 472-2
Barber: Leontyne Price, Barber. RCA Gold Seal 09026 61983-2
Sally Matthews: Recital disc, EMI 585 968-2



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