Meads Festival finale saved by special last minute extra

WHAT have the following places in common: Seaford, Eastbourne, Milan, London, Copenhagen, Santa Fe, New York?

Answer: Matthew Rose is associated with them all. Lovers of fine singing will know that Matthew (who lives in Seaford) is already appearing in many of the greatest opera houses (La Scala in Milan, the Met in New York, and so on); and on Sunday May 27 he stepped in at very short notice to replace the indisposed young tenor Allan Clayton at Eastbourne’s Birley Centre.

Thus was the fourth and final event of this year’s Meads Festival saved from cancellation.

The knowledgeable members of the audience were quick to spot an amazing “extra” announced on the hastily-printed (but very informative) programme: the pianist was to be Malcolm Martineau, one of the world’s most charismatic accompanists. It was an afternoon for the connoisseur. (I spotted, for example, Ieuan Roberts in the front row, himself a distinguished accompanist and singing coach.)

Brahms and Schubert were our only composers. But what Brahms and Schubert! If I would have loved to hear “Some Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific” as an encore (after all, the great Italian operatic bass-baritone Ezio Pinza sang it onstage in New York), there was no mistaking the power of what we were hearing. Matthew is that rare breed – a true bass, with a glorious Russian sound “in the depths”, and a baritonal “top”.

Brahms’s aptly-named Four Serious Songs are moving meditations on life and (especially) death, with German texts from Luther’s translation of the Bible.

They make enormous demands on the voice, and perhaps even greater demands on the pianist. I shall probably never hear a more moving performance.

Schubert’s Schwanengesang (Swansong) is a collection (made by a publisher) of fourteen “late” Schubert songs. The adjective “late” is misleading because all Schubert’s songs were late: he died at 31, leaving hundreds of songs that are now seen as masterpieces.

The varied German texts of the songs make a sort of cycle. The Serenade, is in every singer’s repertoire; and it was fascinating to hear it performed with every subtlety of voice and piano scrupulously observed. It was a revelation, and it may well lead me to destroy several of my recordings. (Not Tauber, of course.)