Matthew Rose is a singer full of promise — his rich, powerful bass has earned him operatic and oratorio engagements the world over. But as an interpreter of the rarified repertory of German lieder, or art song, the U.K. native is not quite a finished artist.
Rose, 36, devoted the second half of his inconsistent Vocal Arts DC recital Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater to Schubert’s “Schwanengesang.” This posthumous collection of 14 songs rewards the protean singer who can capture its varied moods and personas, and Rose has the voice — dark, firm and weighty yet capable of subtle shadings. He tends to oversing climaxes and lacks some suppleness, but his limitations as a lieder singer seem to have more to do with artistic temperament than with vocal technique.
The recital reached its high point with the raw, emotional intensity of three of Schubert’s settings of poems by Heinrich Heine. “Die Stadt” (“The Town”) emerged as a haunted, hallucinatory vision of loss. “Am Meer” (“By the Sea”), about a poisonous sexual encounter, ached with vulnerability, its lines exquisitely shaped. Rose reserved his most moving singing for “Der Doppelgänger” (“The Ghostly Double”), a devastating arc from hollow bleakness to expressionistic horror, with three cataclysmic, if somewhat overkilled, climaxes. The effect was shattering.
Yet Rose seemed ill at ease with Schubert’s more playful and amorous moods. Two songs of seduction — “Ständchen” (“Serenade”) and “Das Fischermädchen” (“The Fisher Girl”) — were charmless, and “Die Taubenpost” (“Pigeon Post”), ideally fleet and airy, was heavy-footed. One longed for more lilt, more prettiness and a lighter touch.
Rose opened the program with dramatic and somewhat rough-edged accounts of two songs by Henry Purcell (in realizations by Benjamin Britten) and Carl Loewe’s ballad “Archibald Douglas.” Throughout, pianist Vlad Iftinca offered bright, if occasionally overexcited, accompaniment. At times, though, one wished both singer and accompanist would simply lighten up.
Chin is a freelance writer.