Dagmar Peckova Recital Wigmore Hall, London
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The Independent Culture
For her Wigmore Hall debut last Friday the Czech mezzo-soprano Dagmar Peckova offered a programme that mostly played safe in terms of attracting an audience: Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Wagner's Wesendonk Lieder, three arias from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito for a rousing climax. Peckova's stage personality and vocal identity made sure that the comparisons which such repertoire invites were largely avoided, and she seemed to have an easy rapport with pianist Roger Vignoles, which in turn communicated itself to the audience: here is a singer eager and able to grab the attention on her own terms.

Mahler and Wagner gave her the chance to display the melancholy shadings that the mezzo voice relishes. Her platform manner is contained, discreet: which makes every gesture tell all the more. Most of the time one arm rests casually on the piano, but at moments of emotional release - as when Mahler proclaims, "Spring is gone! There'll be no more singing!" - the piano becomes her crutch in the face of intolerable pain. At the start of Wagner's "Schmerzen" (Anguish), she takes a deep breath, puffs out her chest. A glint in her eye proclaims that she's going to make the most of this, and indeed she does. As the last notes of "Traume" (Dreams) fade, she gazes heavenward, longing to follow the dreams to the grave.

It all proclaimed a subtle and moving theatricality. Not every note emerged perfectly formed, but if the throat occasionally pinched the beginning of a phrase, she always recovered her rich vocal lustre before it became a problem. In Mozart, her phrasing was exact, her embellishments imaginative and delicate. Here was a singer, at the start of what may be an important international career, bringing marked individuality to familiar repertoire.

Yet she gave the greatest pleasure in Moravian folk poetry settings by Klement Slavicky (born in 1910 and apparently still a significant presence in Czech music). These half-dozen songs showed that both composer and singer had a firm hand on the emotional tiller: as Peckova sang to "The lad with blue eyes", her own orbs gleamed. Then, in "Tell me, my love", as the singer explains why she is "so ravishing, so lovely", there was a perky cheek that avoided archness.

Striking features, a characterful voice, a sure stage presence. The blemish? A sparkly dress with padded shoulders a yard across. Ditch the dress, and the world's her oyster.