"When baritone Matthew Worth auditioned for the University of Richmond’s music department as a freshman in 1996, he auditioned on the trombone. Then he asked if he could audition as a singer. Audiences all over America should be glad he did.
Since graduating in 2001 and studying at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard Opera Center, Worth has been wowing opera and concert audiences from Boston to California, including two recent starring roles with the Virginia Opera.
On Monday night at UR’s Modlin Center for the Arts, he returned to his undergraduate stomping grounds with pianist Tyson Deaton to present a recital of songs by modern American and Canadian composers.
The wide-ranging repertoire revealed a bright, expressive, well-controlled, yet surprisingly powerful lyric baritone voice. The opening selection, 'Daniel Boone Sings to the Night Sky', written for Worth by Alan L. Smith, demonstrated not only a rich and flexible middle and upper range, but a beautiful falsetto as well. It also exemplified Worth’s excellent diction. Throughout the concert, Worth made sure the text of every song came through clearly and expressively.
The full range of color in Worth’s voice were most evident in Andrew Staniland’s song cycle Peter Quince at the Clavier. The texts by poet Wallace Stevens portray the Shakespearian character Peter Quince musing at the keyboard, pondering the nature of music and beauty as expressed in the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders. It’s a distinctly modern work characterized by often random-sounding piano tinklings and rumblings (played masterfully by Deaton), and enormous color contrasts, quickly moving from dark, low tones to falsettos. Worth negotiated these contrasts masterfully and with moving emotion.
The program also included five songs by Charles Ives — 'At the River', 'Housatonic at Stockbridge', 'Children’s Hour', 'The Things Our Father Loved' and 'Circus Band', and Samuel Barber’s song cycle, Opus 10, which presents three poems by James Joyce all dealing with love affairs. Worth’s expressiveness, his ability to sustain a long melodic line and to sing with great dramatic force were all evident in these pieces.
He also showed a penchant for the Broadway stage, presenting three songs by Marc Blitzstein that ranged from the whimsical 'Monday Morning Blues' to the poignant 'Emily' and 'I Wish It So', and finishing with 'Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’' and a powerful rendition of 'Soliloquy' by Richard Rodgers — a fitting ending for a rewarding concert.
Gene Harris, Richmond Times-Dispatch