Sally Matthews – Firsts

Written by: Colin Anderson

Sally Matthews has just issued her first CD and gives the premiere of Two Songs by Mark-Anthony Turnage that have been specially written for her…

Sally Matthews has been receiving laudatory notices for her lyrical soprano voice, one that is notably poised in the high registers. “I was always very happy up there but I’ve had to do some work on the lower parts.” She has a wide-ranging repertoire. When we speak she is singing in Mozart’s C minor Mass, and just a week or so later she is giving the first performance of Two Baudelaire Songs by Mark-Anthony Turnage, which has been specially written for Sally. “It’s really exciting and the first time it’s ever happened.”

I ask about the processes of learning new music. “It’s difficult because I’ve learnt it from the full score and the other parts can be a distraction.” This is music for soprano and instruments, the latter supplied by the superb Nash Ensemble which gives a very attractive Wigmore Hall concert on Saturday the 23rd at, note, 7 o’clock; music by Britten, Mozart, Debussy and Schubert. Sally has also studied the new Turnage “just at the piano which means that there can be a shock at the first rehearsal with the actual instruments because I hear things I wasn’t expecting. The great thing is to come through the study period; when you’ve learnt the songs you can concentrate on how you fit in. It was great to have Mark there for the first rehearsal. He’s got great understanding if something doesn’t feel right; he’s very accommodating and willing to change things. He’s quite a normal guy!” Sally is thrilled with the music that Turnage has created. “They are very sensitive settings, very beautiful, and maybe it’s daunting to set L’invitation au voyage which is so famous from Duparc.”

As for the singing itself, Sally says it was “something I always did, I was always singing around the house, and my mum asked me if I’d like to have singing lessons. We found a very good teacher when I was ten who had an excellent knowledge of classical song and opera; and then there was no doubt that singing would be my career.” Sally has been a part of the Royal Opera’s Vilar Young Artist programme and is “delighted just to have been on the Covent Garden stage; it’s special.” She made her Royal Opera debut in Verdi’s Falstaff under Bernard Haitink; Sally is full of praise for him, just as she is for Simon Rattle, and is grateful for having the opportunity “to learn from the experienced singers.”

Sally Matthews has just issued her first CD, on EMI’s excellent mid-price Debut series, a pleasing mix of Schubert, Richard Strauss and Poulenc. Her pianist is the esteemed Malcolm Martineau. “We were equals and sharing ideas. He’s one of the best, very open, and a very special person too.” The CD was made in the idyllic surroundings of Potton Hall in Suffolk where “a few lambs come up to the door and bah, otherwise it’s peaceful and you can concentrate on what you’re doing.” It’s an impressive recording, in every sense. To this writer, Poulenc’s mélodies can be something of a blind spot. Sally finds Poulenc’s inner melancholy and irascible theatricality most revealingly; she is clearly a musician first. Her singing of Strauss and Schubert is compelling in the most innate way; and, throughout, Malcolm Martineau offers not only sympathetic support but also finds each song’s mood with a sure touch (EMI 5859682).

Come the turn of the New Year Sally will be in Berlin to record Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Philharmonic and Simon Rattle, also for EMI. Her adeptness for hitting top notes will be a boon in that piece!

  • Sally Matthews appears at the Wigmore Hall on 23 October. Concert starts at 7 o’clock; box office 020 7935 2141
  • Wigmore Hall
  • EMI Classics
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 20 October 2004 and is reproduced here with permission

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