Oxford Lieder Festival – Alessandro Fisher & Gary Matthewman: An Italian Songbook

Alessandro Fisher (tenor, above), Gary Matthewman (piano, below)

Bellini Malinconia, ninfa gentile, Per pietà bell’idol mio, Ma rendi pur contento (all 1829)
Donizetti Me voglio fa’ ‘na casa (1837), Lu trademiento (1842)
Verdi Il poveretto (1847), Il tramonto (1845), Brindisi (1845)
Tosti ‘A vucchella (1907), Sogno (1886)
Hahn Venezia (1901)

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
Wednesday 17 October 2018

Written by Ben Hogwood

The spectacular round of the Sheldonian Theatre proved the ideal setting for tenor Alessandro Fisher and pianist Gary Matthewman, with an attractive Italian recital continuing the Grand Tour theme of the Oxford Lieder Festival.

Fisher proved a consummate storyteller, and his asides to the audience between songs were ideally judged and set the music of the concert in context. There was deep, romantic love, humour and much merrymaking to be had over the course of the hour!

Photo (c) Johan Persson

Fisher and the ever-attentive pianist Matthewman filled the first half of their recital with songs from Italian composers known primarily for their opera – and indeed it did feel as though the tenor was singing excerpts from bigger, stage-bound works. The Bellini songs were straight and to the point – melodic and responsive to their text. Donizetti showed off the voice in Me voglio fa’ ‘na casa (I want to build a house) but cut straight to the heart in Lu trademiento (The treachery).

Three songs by Verdi were of rich variety – the downtrodden Il poveretto (The poor man) led to the rather moving Il tramonto (Twilight) before Fisher and Matthewman cast all cares aside for Brindisi (A toast). Sporting a different musical response to the famous aria of the same name from La Traviata, this was a riotous celebration of wine.

The songs of Tosti are highly respected but still quite rare in concert hall recitals, so it was good to hear a consummate master of the form at work in ‘A vucchella (A sweet mouth) and Sogno (Dream), passionately sung.

The concert’s second part told the story of Hahn’s Venezia, where Matthewman painted the watery settings of the opening song Sopra l’acqua indormenzada (Upon the sleeping waters), the undulations of La barcheta (The little boat) and the heady atmosphere of La biondina in gondoleta (The fair maiden in a gondoleta). Fisher was a very entertaining guide to the ups and downs of love in Venice for the subject, no more so than in Che peca! (What a shame!) where he had all the requisite mannerisms to cast off his ‘only thought’ Nina, to the amusement of the audience – but perhaps the best was left for last, a celebration of La primavera (The springtime) to round off the cycle in some style.

Fisher’s bright tenor sound was also ideally suited to the encore, Leoncavallo’s Mattinata, which provided further evidence of the strength of his partnership with Matthewman. With such colourful song set under the equally bright roof of the Sheldonian, it was a match to remember.

Further listening

You can hear the repertoire from this concert on the Spotify playlist below. Alessandro Fisher has yet to record any of the Italian songs, so leading alternative versions have been used:

Meanwhile Fisher himself appears in a new recording from Classical Opera and Ian Page of Mozart’s Grabmusik and Bastien Und Bastienne:

Ask the Audience at the BBC Proms – Sam Hogwood on Verdi’s Requiem

Ask The Audience Arcana at the Proms
sammi-2This is the final installment of this year’s series where Arcana invites a friend to a Prom who does not normally listen to classical music. In an interview after the concert each will share their musical upbringing and their thoughts on the concert – whether good or bad! Here, it felt right to bring the editor’s wife along! So Samantha Hogwood (above) gives her thoughts on Prom 74.

Soloists, BBC Proms Youth Choir, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Marin Alsop

Verdi Requiem (1874)

You can watch this Prom on the BBC iPlayer here

Arcana: Mrs Hogwood, what was your musical upbringing?

Well a lot of it was from my father, who’s now a silver fox…and we were brought up on things like Pink Floyd, Queen and Fleetwood Mac, and lots of blues and jazz – though no specific names jump out at me. He used to play things like Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene – all that kind of stuff – and all sorts of what might be considered wacky music! There was one particular album – Rick Wakeman I think – where it was like a battle. King Arthur I think it was, and there was a cover where there was a horse being stabbed, I remember lying on the floor behind the sofa with my dad’s headphones on, imagining what it was like to do battle, and feeling sad that so many horses must have died. I was completely knocked out by things like that.

king-arthur

The cover of Rick Wakeman‘s King Arthur

There are so many amazing bands, but things that stick in your mind…and music I used to hear when sharing a flat with my dear friends Kate and Jan. I think of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Judy Tzuke, then bands like Hawkwind, The Clash and loads more. Listening to Abba with my dear friend Anne as well. I used to hate the Sex Pistols though because they used to gob on everyone! I love Orb-type stuff, the Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, and Underworld had a massive influence on me when I moved down to London. I used to listen to loads of music then, in my room.

Could you name three musical acts you love, and why you love them?

Well we’ve seen the Super Furry Animals together a lot, and I love them so much because they’re wacky, original and colourful:

I used to love David Lee Roth, and had a poster of him over my bed. It wasn’t that I fancied him necessarily – well, I did! – but it was the cockiness he portrayed, the glint in his eye, the kind of music he sang and the humour as well – like the song Just A Gigolo, with his band mates onstage – a bit like Magic Mike. I went to three or four concerts on my own to see him!

I would say Joni Mitchell too, because every time I hear her voice she takes me to a place that I completely identify with, whether it’s Big Yellow Taxi, Blue or Heartbreak – stuff that you’ve done that you know you can’t get back, you have to accept it. It’s joyous but heartbreaking too, and every time I hear her I just want to melt. I know all the words, all the nuances, and all the notes, and I love her songwriting.

What has been your experience of classical music so far?

Well quite a lot from the beginning, because my mum and dad used to listen to stuff like Strauss – the music to 2001 – or Holst‘s The Planets­ – but there was a whole lot more. Apparently I kicked off about learning classical guitar, so they took me to do that, and I got to grade 8. Mum and Dad do like to regale the fact that I was so frustrated with practising that I once bit my guitar! There were chew marks around it! That’s basically what they will remember. I did very well in exams but I used to bite my guitar a lot and was locked in my room and made to practise. I gave it to a woman in London.

Then I met you – my husband now! – and we realised we had a lot in common. You would suggest stuff to go and see. We talk about music a lot, and I used to regale the music I listened to – and still do now. After a period of time I went to the Proms with you, but I haven’t been very often. I love listening to classical music, and we’ve been to see Holst’s The Planets and Britten’s War Requiem, which was incredible but more depressing – but the voices lifted you up. I’m really lucky to have seen that, but I do find it difficult to sit still while I’m listening for a long period of time at concerts, where I would like to move around. If I was watching a film it would be different.

How did you rate your first Proms experience?

It was mind blowing. It made my hair stand on end, as soon as I heard the orchestra and the singers I was blown away. There was one particular part that they use a lot in the X-factor, that we’re all familiar with – which is really annoying – but I loved it. It was colourful and beautiful. There were dips on occasion when the soloists were singing, which is what seems to happen, but I would say I was really listening to it, and at times I was closing my eyes and feeling the music.

I absolutely loved it, but I’ve been to a few concerts with you and so I guess you knew I would like it! I’m very good at switching myself off and on again from the day, because you can’t go somewhere in a bad mood and enjoy a concert, so I find you do have to do that sometimes.

I haven’t been to the Proms as often as you have but I think it is an amazing cultural institution that has been going for so long. I think they have been good at introducing new things, and having the tickets where you can stand is really good. I definitely think they could do more to introduce classical music to the greater public though, because I know for a fact those who have heard it on advertisements or TV have no idea where it’s come from, or the context, and they would love to go and see it. They could do more to introduce the more general classical music to encourage people.

That’s where I think your website could be the most amazing thing. Nobody makes enough of an effort to introduce people to new kinds of classical music. We’ve got loads of friends who love the classical music we’ve played at parties, from 1 o’clock in the afternoon, people who have loved it but don’t know an awful lot about it. It would be amazing if we could encourage more people like that along to the Proms to experience the environment, because tonight was absolutely gorgeous and amazing!

Would you go again?

Definitely. I loved it!

Verdict: SUCCESS