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Performances

06 Apr 2019

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Matthew Rose

Photo credit: Lena Kern

 

We began on familiar ground, with a sequence of five lied by Franz Schubert. Seated on a stool, nestled in the piano’s curve, with his music stand at a comfortable height, Matthew Rose cut a relaxed figure in his black velvet jacket. But, while the bass’s production of sound was characteristically fluent, and his demeanour easy, it took Rose a while to settle securely in terms of both pitch and focus. In both ‘Strophe aus “Die Götter Griechenlands”’ (Verse from ‘The gods of Greece’) and ‘Fahrt zum Hades (Journey to Hades), Tom Poster was a discrete, restrained accompanist, the light touch of his triplet quavers in the latter song paradoxically emphasising the menace latent in the vocal line, with Rose pertinently attentive to the text. I found ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ (Seafarer’s song to the Dioscuri) a little on the hasty side; it has a reverential, prayer-like quality - enhanced by the stanzaic structure - that wasn’t quite captured here, though the piano’s dark ripples were atmospheric. Similarly, the decorative turns in ‘Im Abendrot’ were gracefully articulated, doing much to establish the expressive mood. ‘Wandrers Nachtlied II’ was beautifully hushed, and Rose conveyed the paradoxical union of simplicity and profundity in Goethe’s poem.

Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb D899 No.2 followed segue, and there was a strong sense of release and freedom in Poster’s playing: technical discipline underpinned a mesmerising journey from the gentle fluidity of the opening triplets, effortlessly fingered and accompanied by a quietly nudging left-hand, to a more assertive dance in a distant minor tonality, with strong left-hand accents propelling things forward, to a statuesque coda of confidence and brilliance. It was followed by the tender reverie of Franz Liszt’s Impromptu (Nocturne) S191, in which Poster’s soft, warm tone did not preclude clear, legato articulation of the lower line and conveyed an introspective quality that was never sombre.

Rose’s relished the rich complexity of the ensuing sequence of Liszt songs which grew in dramatic fervour. A brief but powerful swell to make us feel the breath of wind on the mountain-top, a telling repetition to emphasise that soon we would be at peace, and the surging strength of ‘Ruhest’ at the close of ‘Über allen Gipfeln is Ruh’ (Over every mountain-top lies peace) typified Rose’s attention to detail and communicative directness. ‘Gebet’ (Prayer) further heightened the intensity while Rose swaggered imperiously in ‘Gastibelza’, Liszt’s colourful setting of Victor Hugo’s account of the eponymous Spaniard’s mad ravings for his lost wife, Sabine, who ran off with a wealthy count, though I thought, here, that he might have chosen to stand to sing this final song of the first half of the recital. Poster matched Rose for theatrical flair, mimicking the strumming guitar and swaying through an off-kilter bolero and generally making light work of Liszt’s pianistic virtuosity.

Tom Poster Jason Joyce.jpgTom Poster. Photo credit: Jason Joyce.

It was in Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, though, that Rose’s voice really came into its own. The piano’s winding unison at the start of ‘Kolybel’naja’ (Lullaby) set a melancholy tone but Rose used the text to introduce variety of pace, mood and colour, injecting energy, for example, when the “gentle knock of Death” is heard at the door, or fading resignedly as the close as the mother futilely tries to still her anxious child. Strength and sensitivity were allied in ‘Serenada’, Poster’s pianissimo rocking sweetly supporting the well-sculpted vocal line which grew in generosity and vigour towards the surging octave leap of the commanding declaration, “Slushaj! … molchi! … Ty moja!” (Be silent! You are mine!) Poster’s low, quiet tremolandos were an ominous night-time blizzard in ‘Trepak’, and as both the wind and the man’s drunken whirling grew stormier, a spilling over into wild abandonment seemed imminent but was ever resisted. The real fury was reserved for ‘Polkovodec’ (Field marshal) in which the sturdy majesty of Rose’s bass evoked the rage of the battlefield, while its inky darkness wonderfully captured the soberness of the close: “then lay down your bones in the earth,/ and rest sweetly rest, life’s labours down!” The songs date from the mid-1870s and after their dramatic vitality, the decorative arabesques of Musorgsky’s Impromptu passionné (1859) came as quite a shock, as if Poster was cleansing away the brooding, burning darkness and taking us back to the songfulness of Schubert and the intricacy of Liszt.

The Schumannesque miniature was beautifully played by Poster and followed by the first performance of one of the pianist’s own compositions, The Turning Year, which was commissioned by Wigmore Hall and sets texts by Jem Poster, the pianist’s father, taking us through the four seasons and emphasising their contrasts: ‘birdsong and new beginnings in spring; the oppressive heat of summer; autumn’s blustery winds and the warmth of the fireside; the icy stillness of winter - are reflected particularly through variation of the piano textures and figurations, while the vocal line, taking its cue from the natural imagery of the poems, is essentially lyrical throughout’, explains Poster. Rose crested smoothly through the arioso at the start supported by inventive piano textures suggestive of the twists and turns of sleeping man’s dreams, and of the birdsong and creaking branches outside his window. Pedal notes in the inner voices of the piano part and a steady rhythmic pulse conveyed the grip of the summer heat, as the voice roved more freely, but with the coming of autumn the piano became a swirling wind and Rose carved the vocal line with care. The drawing of the curtains brought rest, anticipating the white motionlessness of winter. This final episode was texturally delicate, the Bergian harmonies here, and throughout, expressively rich. It’s always difficult to judge from a single, first hearing, but The Turning Year undoubtedly communicates the lyricism of the poetic details.

Songs by Charles Ives closed the recital, but they were prefaced by the composer’s Three Improvisations, which were transcribed in the 1980s by Gail and James Dapogny from a recording made by Ives in 1938. Etching clear textures, Poster effectively shaped the continuing transformation of the material and, given the improvisatory nature of so much of Ives’ music, it seemed apt that the first song, ‘Ilmenau’, followed segue, and returned us to Schubert, offering another setting of Goethe’s ‘Wandrers Nachtlied’ in which the piano’s gentle lilt evoked the simplicity and ease of the poem’s peaceful vision. Rose’s open, warm sound and unmannered directness communicated the engaging artlessness of these Ives songs, and in ‘The Children’s Hour’ Poster’s hand-crossing chimes flowed effortlessly. In ‘Down East’ and ‘At the River’ Rose was a relaxed balladeer, and the ‘The Circus Band’ marched quirkily, dancing with the child’s excitement at the vibrant and varied parade.

At the close I had just one misgiving. Rose’s decision to stay seated throughout the performance did enhance the inherent intimacy of Wigmore Hall, but Rose was rather wedded to the score and when he did look up at his audience, his gaze somewhat low. Given the communicativeness of his bass, it was a pity that at times this led to a sense of distance between singer and Hall. That said, this diverse recital wore its technique prowess and musical intellect lightly.

Claire Seymour

Matthew Rose (bass), Tom Poster (piano)
Schubert - ‘Strophe aus Die Götter Griechenlands’ D677, ‘Fahrt zum Hades’ D526, ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ D360, Im Abendrot’ D799, ‘Wandrers Nachtlied II’ D768, Impromptu in E flat D899 No.2; Liszt - Impromptu (Nocturne) S191, ‘Über allen gipfeln ist Ruh’ S306/2, ‘Gebet’ S331, ‘Gastibelza’ S540; Musorgsky - Songs and Dances of Death, Impromptu passionné; Tom Poster - The Turning Year (world première); Ives - 3 Improvisations, ‘Ilmenau’, ‘The Children's Hour’, ‘Down East’, ‘At the River’, ‘ The Circus Band’.
Wigmore Hall, London; Thursday 4th April 2019

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