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Music Reviews : Soprano Matsumoto in Benefit Concert

Sometimes, less-than-perfect is good enough.

So it was for singer Shigemi Matsumoto in her concert benefiting the department of music at Cal State Long Beach on Sunday afternoon. To be sure, the former San Francisco Opera soprano is in an unsteady vocal condition these days. But that deterred her only a little in a musically satisfying and entertaining recital combining some out-of-the-way art songs with Japanese folk songs.

Her most trying moments came first in a labored, wavery account of the virtuosic and florid aria “Perdette, vezzi e squardi” by Handel. One wondered why she started with this.

Matsumoto proved more relaxed in flowing and shapely readings of the rarely heard “Brettl Lieder” (Cabaret Songs) by Arnold Schoenberg, and even more at home in expressive and vocally focused performances of three songs by Poulenc, his “Air vif,” “C” and “Les chemins de l’amour.” Some occasional wobbliness up high notwithstanding, her tone took on a light and liquid timbre.

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In a Mozart group, pitch problems arose in the high tessitura of “Dans un bois solitaire,” but she supplied rhythmically vital and graciously phrased accounts of “Der Zauberer” and the aria “Chi sa, chi sa, qual sia.” At the piano, Dan Bridston accompanied tamely throughout, though generally sturdily.

Japanese folk songs made up the second half of the program, with Kent Tayenaka ably accompanying at the koto. Here, Matsumoto seemed most at ease both vocally and expressively. In an elegant kimono, she gave richly colored and fluid accounts of the simple, arching melodies, adding to their gracefulness with traditional hand movements and, at times, dance steps.

Her interpretations these songs revealed a wide range of mood, from the spare melancholy of “Izayoi Nikki” (October 16th Diary) to the playful comedy of “Koneko to Mari” (Little Cat With Bouncing Ball) to the gusto of two work songs for fishermen and rice planters. An ingratiating performance.


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