Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., April 5, 2002
Matthew Hinsley: Love Songs Close to His HeartHyde Park United Methodist Church,
Saturday, March 23
A few hundred years ago, the popular tunesmith who made his career singing songs while accompanying himself on some sort of strummed instrument was a troubadour or a minnesinger, traveling between Europe's royal courts to entertain the ladies and gentlemen with his musical takes on love, life, god, and, occasionally (if he dared), politics. Nowadays, such men and women are of the ubiquitous singer-songwriter variety, porting guitars to coffeehouses and smoky clubs to air their personal musical thoughts. It's a direct connection from present to past, but in the pursuit of the challenging music of the troubadour and minnesinger there has resulted specializations, with instrumentalists playing the music and vocalists singing along.
Much rarer these days, then, is the artist who attempts to remarry in performance the music and words of the classical canon in solo performance. Matthew Hinsley, an accomplished local classical guitarist, attempted such and to highly entertaining effect. Accompanying himself on classical guitar, the tenor plucked and sang his way through an intriguing and varied mix of music, ranging from Renaissance England to modern day (classical) American. And as with any modern-day singer-songwriter, Hinsley's selections offered a personal look at the performer, illuminating the artist's warm sense of humor, easygoing demeanor, expressive voice, and exceptional guitar-playing skills.
The generous bill began with music by English composer John Dowland, a roguish performer in his own time, Hinsley explained, who was often tossed out of locales for illicit affairs. Dowland's songs were love songs, of course, wooing and cocky. Hinsley dove right into the first set, a little wobbly vocally. But soon such wobbles disappeared, and the rest of the evening was as engaging a night of live music as you'd get in a more modern setting. Selections from Canciones Para Niños, local composer and recent UT graduate Jonathan Kulp's take on poems by Federico Garcìa Lorca, were next and provided a contrast to the English fare that preceded it. While the Dowland was intricate and rather predictably melodic, Kulp's work bordered on the atonal and was highly theatrical. Hinsley appeared at ease with the musical intricacies of both styles. Sometimes he leaned his face right up to his guitar's neck for a close look at his fingering, sometimes he languidly swayed back and forth to the rhythm.
Next up were arias cadged from period operas by late 18th-century composer Mauro Guiliani, each rather humorously fixated on a particular word or phrase and each beguilingly sexual with an evident wink. Here, too, Hinsley was equal to the songs' charms, singing these Italian tunes in a voice round and full. The final part of the concert was devoted to the music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco -- his 1958 interpretations of some of the daring Middle Ages poetry of Vogelweide. Hinsley combined the Latin flair of the composer's music with the deep-felt humor, love, and irony of songs written, and sung, in German. Throughout the evening, Hinsley played more than just the challenging dual roles of musician and singer, he was a knowledgeable and inviting guide to a world of music that is clearly close to his heart, and at which he excelled with a smiling grace.