Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Pumeza Matshikiza - Voice of Hope

Pumeza - Voice of Hope: Decca
Pumeza: Voice of Hope
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 24 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Debut recital from the young South African star, mixing opera with Miriam Makeba and traditional songs

The South African lyric soprano Pumeza Matshikiza has released her debut album on Decca. Entitled Voice of Hope, it combines operatic arias by Puccini and Mozart recorded with Simon Hewett and Staatsorchester Stuttgart, with more traditional South African songs recorded with Iain Farrington and the Aurora Orchestra. These latter vary from traditional songs to songs by Miriam Makeba, and a song by Kevin Volans.

Pumeza was born in South African and lived in the townships, but a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London enabled her to develop her operatic talent. This new disc seeks to reflect this background by mixing South African songs with Western classical ones, very much as Njabulo Madlala has done on his debut recital disc (see my review); and some of the songs are common to both discs.

Pumeza's appearances include singing at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, and the role of Dido in a semi-staged performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at this year's Bristol Proms.


The disc opens with a pair of Puccini arias, with Simon Hewett and Staatsorchester Stuttgart, O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi and Signore, ascolta! from Turandot. These reveal a substantial lyric voice, with a lovely warm tone and quite a strong vibrato. She has a finely open sound, and brings sensitive shaping to the music. O mio babbino caro perhaps sounds a little too mature, but Signore, ascolta! is vibrant with an even, well filled line.

Next a group of South African songs, recorded with the Aurora Orchestra and Iain Farrington, all in Farrington's arrangements. The traditional Thula Baba, is affecting but the arrangement with a backing choir verges on the saccharine, though Pumeza's performance rises above this and her sincerity shines through. William Fedhile's Malaika receives a lovely orchestrations with marimba accompaniment, though the performance does rather smooth the song out a little. The song is sung in Swahili and the title means My Angel. Miriam Makeba and Jerry Ragovy's Pata Pata is nicely catchy, capturing the songs interesting rhythmic feel with some great percussion in the accompaniment. The song is a Xhosa dance song which was a hit for Miriam Makeba in the 1950's Norman Byfield Thomas's The Naughty Little Flea is sung in English and is a catchy delight, about a flea biting a dog and the dog scratching! It was imported from America by Makeba.

It is a bit of a shock to move to Mozart, but Pumeza's performances of Vedrai, carino from Mozart's Don Giovanni with Simon Hewett and Staatsorchester Stuttgart, is poised with a fine feel for the phrasing. Her diction is excellent, but there is also a sense that the performance is a little generic and that the role of Zerlina still needs a little bedding down. Mimi's Donde lieta usci from Act three of Puccini's La Boheme is near ideal, with a lovely rich line combined with singing of fluidity and flexibility, plus a fabulous climax.

The South African composer Kevin Volans has supported Pumeza from the very beginning of her career, as he bought her ticket to London to enable her to attend an audition at the Royal College of Music. Volans wrote the song Umzi Watsha (the title is Xhosa fro The House is Burning) for Pumeza and the text comes from children's rhymes. the song is quite strongly characterful, and Pumeza makes it rather intriguingly effective.

The next group of songs are all associated with Miriam Makeba, Pumeza has recorded them with the Aurora Orchestra and Iain Farrington, in Farrrington's arrangements. MacKay Davashe's Saduva (I Hear You) was a hit in the 1950's for Makeba and the Manhattan Bothers. It has a rather effective arrangement, feeling quite through composed and with affecting vocals from Pumeza. Alan Sillinga's Holilili was recording in 1956 by Makeba and her all girl group The Skylarks who mixed jazz and traditional South African melodies. It opens with a bluesy clarinet solo, and with a solo contribution from Pumeza to match. The Click Song is well known, in fact it is a traditional Xhosa wedding song, here going with quite a swing in a nicely catchy rendition. Makeba's Ilya Gaduza dates from the 1960's and here is another attractively rhythmic piece with marimba accompaniment.

The final track on the disc was recorded with Iain Farrington conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Mackay Davasche's Lakutshon Ilanga is a Xhosa love song recording by Makeba. It was the song which made her famous, from the from Come Back Africa in 1959. Here it receives a lush orchestration from Farrington and beautifully controlled and affecting vocals from Pumeza.

This is a fascinating disc, with Pumeza showing herself adept at performing both the operatic arias and the Miriam Makeba songs. She has a voice of great beauty which, on this showing, is combined with great sensibility. Certainly a talent to watch.

Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924) - O mio babbino caro (from Gianni Schicchi)
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924) - Signore, ascolta! (from Turandot)
Traditional, arr Iain Farrington - Thula Baba
William Fedhile, arr Iain Farrington - Malaika
Miriam Makeba (1932 - 2008), Jerry Ragovoy (born 1935), arr Iain Farrington - Pata Pata
Norman Byfield Thomas, arr Iain Farrington - The Naughty Little Flea
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) - Vedrai, carino (from Don Giovanni)
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924) -Donde lieta usci (from La Boheme)
Kevin Volans (born 1949) - Umzi Watsha
MacKay Davashe, arr Iain Farrington - Saduva
Alan Sillinga, arr Iain Farrington - Holilili
Nathan Mdledle, Joseph Mogotsi, Rufus Khoza, Ronnie Sehume, arr Iain Farrington - The Click Song
Miriam Makeba (1932 - 2008), arr Iain Farrington - Iya Guduza
MacKay Davashe, arr Iain Farrington - Lakutshon Ilanga
Pumeza Matshikiza (soprano)
Staatsorchester Stuttgart
Aurora Orchestra
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Simon Hewett (conductor)
Iain Farrington (conductor)
Recorded Aug, Sep, Oct 2013
DECCA 0289 478 7605 21CD


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