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Matthew Rose @ Vocal Arts D.C.

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Schubert, Winterreise, M. Rose, G. Matthewman
(Stone Records, 2013)
Matthew Rose's voice continues to grow, after first striking me as a little gruff and unrounded. The British bass, whose Leporello was one of the best parts of a Don Giovanni at Santa Fe in 2009, opened the Vocal Arts D.C. season on Sunday afternoon, with a lightly attended recital in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The program had a first half of unexpected music that brought out Rose's strengths, and a second half given over to Schubert's final song set, Schwanengesang (D. 957). It is a powerful voice, and Rose still tends in some cases to hurl it at the music, meaning that there was occasional imprecision of pitch, especially at loud dynamics, but also some truly thrilling listening.

Two longer Purcell songs featured Rose's excellent English diction, with the gloomy recitative of Job's Curse and the depression of the spurned lover in Let the Dreadful Engines of Eternal Will playing well to the dark side of Rose's timbre, especially at the low end. The latter song, on a poem by Thomas D'Urfey, has its silly moments, too, which suited the more buffo side of the voice. Rose and his accompanist, Vlad Iftinca (heard earlier this year with soprano Hei-Kyung Hong), performed these two songs in arrangements by Benjamin Britten, and the modernizing details of the piano part especially added to the appeal. A long song by Carl Loewe, a rambling ballad on an episode from the life of Scottish nobleman Archibald Douglas, was a pleasing curiosity, revealing the reasons why so many composers revered Loewe, whose work is mostly forgotten today.

Other Reviews:

Simon Chin, From promising UK singer Matthew Rose, inconsistent recital at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, October 21)
A gentler tone came through in some of the songs of the Schwanengesang set, starting with the opening song, Liebesbotschaft. Here the piano's murmuring brook echoed the singer's line endings, and Iftinca created a stark death-knell accompaniment in Kriegers Ahnung. Rose put the blustery power of his voice -- heard to great effect as Bottom in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Metropolitan Opera and as Shadow in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress at Glyndebourne -- to good use here, too. The cathartic crescendi and full-throated outbursts were effective in songs like Aufenthalt and In der Ferne but out of place in others, like Ständchen, where the lack of a truly purring legato was most felt. This set is not really a song cycle, in the sense that Winterreise, which Rose has just recorded, is -- some songs, like the silly ditty of Das Fischermädchen, stick out like sore thumbs. Rose could not quite make these pieces work as part of the group, none more so than the final song, Die Taubenpost, appended to the set by Schubert's publisher. Rose would have done better to omit it, ending the evening on the most chilling and fog-benighted performance of Der Doppelgänger I have ever heard, a grim expression of Heinrich Heine's self-loathing that understandably appealed to the dying Schubert.

The next recital presented by Vocal Arts D.C. will feature soprano Pretty Yende (November 6, 7:30 pm), at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

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