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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Liederabend with Sarah-Jane Brandon and Gary Matthewman

Sarah-Jane Brandon
Sarah-Jane Brandon
Schubert, Wolf, Brahms, Strauss; Sarah-Jane Brandon, Gary Matthewman; Lied in London
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 10 2016
Delightfully engaging evening of lieder from young soprano

On Sunday 10 January 2016 there was one of pianist Gary Matthewman's Lied in London evenings. For this evening, it had been intended to perform Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch complete, but illness meant that the concert had to given without a baritone. So soprano Sarah-Jane Brandon sang a selection from Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch along with songs by Schubert (including Viola), Brahms' Zigeunerlieder Op.103 and a group of songs by Richard Strauss. Singing from memory throughout, Sarah-Jane Brandon gave no sense that this had been a hastily assembled recital and throughout the evening gave a consummate and highly engaging performance.

Gary Matthewman - © Johan Persson
Gary Matthewman
© Johan Persson
Brandon and Matthewman opened with Schubert, starting with Herrn Josef Spaun, Assessor in Linz a comic jeux d'esprit written to his friend Spaun who had got a job in Linz and wasn't corresponding with Schubert and his friends back in Vienna. It is written as a recitative and aria, in highly dramatic form as if from a woman scorned, delivered by Brandon and Matthewman with brilliant dead-pan drama. Perhaps the best known of the group was the beautiful Im Abendrot but the concluding song of the group, though not so well known, was extremely striking. Viola is a very long song, almost a scena, in which the travails of a poor flower are given emotional weight by anthropomorphic means. Brandon's performance was thoroughly engaging, bringing out the lighter delight of the song without it ever outstaying its welcome.

The selection from Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch enabled Sarah-Jane Brandon to show the lighter side of her personality. She brought a lovely humour to Auch keline Dinge konnen uns entzucken and Mein Liebster ist so klein, and continued giving each song a nicely engaging feeling of humour and personality, through to the sly wit of Ich hab'in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen.

Brahms' Zigeunerlieder were similarly characterful, with both Brandon and Matthewman clearly enjoying the way Brahms evokes the Hungarian gypsy element in the music, with Brahms mining the same vein has his Hungarian Dances. It wasn't all lightness and fun, there was emotion and dark drama too. The evening concluded with a group of four Richard Strauss songs, all quite well known Ruhe, meine Seele!, Cacilie, Heimliche Aufforderung and Morgen. Brandon brought a lovely sense of flexible line to these, singing with apparent ease and able to fine her voice down to chamber proportions where necessary. Quite Magical.

Throughout the evening, Brandon showed a fine attention to the text and each song was vividly sung and fully engaged. This was a programme with a multitude of small pleasures, as both Brandon and Matthewman showed care and attention to each song. And throughout Matthewman gave fine support and partnership from the piano.

As occasionally happens at these evening, Gary Matthewman continued his experiment with using surtitles rather than having printed texts. This was by and large successful as it meant that we were paying attention to Sarah Jane Brandon and the texts projected just above her head, rather than to our printed words.

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