Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cardiff: Song Prize Final (June 17)

[As in the rest of this series, all non-bracketed text is by this blog's correspondent on the scene, not by me.  The posting delay today, however, is mine -- my apologies. --JSU]

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011
Song Prize - Final - 17/6/2011

Simon Lepper (SL) / Llyr Williams (LW) - accompanists

A word about the accompanists, before commencing my survey of the Song Prize Final. Of the 20 contestants for the Cardiff Trophy (the "main prize", if you like), 16 signed up for the Song Prize, and 15 actually appeared. Now, candidates may bring their own accompanists, but it is at their expense, and over the years fewer and fewer independent pianists have appeared on the roster. Instead, the competition supplies three "house" pianists to meet the needs of the contestants, and if you make it through to the Final, you stay with the accompanist you began with, for obvious reasons, hence the presence of two or more pianists during the evening. The standard is never less than good, but for the last few competitions, Llyr Williams has been offering his services regularly, and Williams is not only a first-rate accompanist, he is one of the very best (though most discreet) pianists the UK currently has to offer. Although Lepper is a fine player, he is simply not in the same class. This did, to my mind, impact somewhat on the performances, though I don't think it affected the end result too much.

Leah Crocetto (LW):
Pace non trovo (Petrarch Sonnets No. 1, Liszt) / Chanson d'avril (Bizet) / Die Nacht (Op. 10 No.3, Strauss) / Cacilie (Op. 27, No. 2, Strauss) / The man I love (Gershwin)
Leah Crocetto's opening number was a case in point of the accompanist having a major effect. Liszt's songs frequently have a piano part that is every bit as important as the vocal line, if not more so, and the Petrarch Sonnets, in particular, exist in piano transcriptions that are regularly performed in concert. Crocetto made a very nice noise, but it was Williams that captured the true poetry of the piece. I don't think he was remotely trying to show Crocetto up, it simply couldn't be avoided given the nature of the music, his own considerable talent, and perhaps a little lack of experience on Crocetto's part that would have allowed her to impose herself more effectively. The Bizet was charming, the first Strauss not terribly convincing, but the second was better, though not quite achieving the kind of radiant wonder it really requires. Then she started in on the Gershwin, pulling that big, creamy voice in and "up" - upper chest voice, rather than full diaphragm. This was certainly the right move for the Gershwin, not to sound too operatic, but she was also actually much more involved with this song than any of the others, which left a slightly odd impression.

Maire Flavin (SL):
Widmung (Op. 25, No.1, Schumann) / Lorelei (Clara Schumann) / Chanson triste - L'invitation au voyage (Duparc) / La souris d'Angleterre (Rosenthal) / The Lake Isle of Innisfree (Philip Martin)
Flavin committed a tactical error here. This programme is virtually identical to the one she sang in her qualifying round; she replaced a Copland song with the second Duparc. I had thought it was actually in the regulations that you could not repeat material; obviously not. Nevertheless, nobody else did, so it looked a bit like laziness or complacency, it invited comparisons with her own earlier performance, for better or for worse, and the best number by some way was the new one, "L'invitation au voyage", which got a warm, expressive reading that I would have liked to hear applied to the other Duparc, as well as most of the rest of her recital. The launch of "Widmung" was rushed, the Clara Schumann was interesting, but only moderately so, and Rosenthal's English Mouse was entertaining, but should have been clearer. There was nothing wrong with her French in the Duparc, but she seemed unable to carry that clarity through to the Rosenthal. She ended her section with an unaccompanied setting of a W.B. Yeats poem, as a nod to her home country, which lacked mystery. As in her concert round, the voice is bright, well-placed and attractive, but there is a lot of work to be done still in terms of expressivity.

Andrei Bondarenko (LW):
In der Fremde - Intermezzo - Waldesgesprach - Die Stille (Liederkreis, Schumann) / Autumn - Russia cast adrift - Simon, Peter - O my homeland (Russia Cast Adrift, Sviridov)
Bondarenko's Schumann was only moderately successful. There was some odd phrasing in the first, and a hint of iffy intonation in the last. Intermezzo was nicely tender, but he didn't take the dramatic ballad of Waldesgesprach as far as it can go. Despite a rich, round tone, the different voices of the poem (narrator, knight and siren) were not sufficiently differentiated. His Sviridov, on the other hand, was excellent, giving his very fine voice full reign, with an almost breathless stillness in the first, real excitement in the second, a much surer grasp of the dramatic nature in the third (verging on the gothic, without ever letting the voice distort) and a strong, anthemic quality to the fourth. This was compelling singing and interpreting.

Valentina Nafornita (SL):
Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Op. 4, No. 4, Rachmaninov) / Le temps des lilas (Chausson) / Widmung (Op. 25, No. 1, Schumann) / Les filles de Cadix (Delibes)
In terms of sheer beauty of sound, Nafornita is still the most impressive singer of this competition to my mind; however, the recital platform is not her natural domain. The Rachmaninov was too-tightly controlled, instead of that lyrical flow that I'm sure she can produce under the right circumstances, but did not here. The Chausson is one of those songs that can be tediously long is not given a great deal of the right sort of attention, but here there was just a uniform melancholy, without much relief. Curiously, she made exactly the same mistake on "Widmung" as Flavin, and launched into it too precipitously, then had to throttle back, which really spoils the effect. And finally, although "Les filles de Cadix" had a nice, flirtatious lilt to it, there was no text. I know I said I'd stay off my high horse with regards to diction, but this is a song recital! The texts are sort of important! All that said, it would almost be tempting to listen to that lovely, lustrous soprano voice sing a laundry list.

Olga Kindler (LW):
Muzyka (Op. 34, No. 8, Rachmaninov) / Stehe still! (Wesendonck-Lieder, Wagner) / C (Poulenc) / Fleur jetee (Faure) / Im Abendrot (Vier letzte Lieder, Strauss)
I had a lot of hopes for this programme. In many ways, it looked the most interesting, but it was also in the hands of the one singer who had cracked under pressure in her concert round. Kindler didn't actually crack, but she didn't really connect either. The Rachmaninov was a strange, sparse piece that never quite spoke to me. The first part of the Wagner was a little messy, Kindler not completely in control of the stormy opening, though she settled down later. Her timbre had grown very dark, however, and she had trouble lightening it enough for the Poulenc. "C" is one of his very finest songs, but her phrasing was off, and she did something a little odd on "delaissee", towards the end, that I would need to see a score to verify, and didn't like the sound of. Again, the stormy nature of the Faure got away from her, and if there was a prolonged silence at the end of "Im Abendrot", it was more for Williams' quietly ecstatic coda than for Kindler's reading of the song itself. There is a lot of potential here, but perhaps a problem with discipline, and this was a disappointing presentation.


Nobody had really imposed themselves outright, there were pluses and minuses in every performance. Of the five singers, only Flavin and Bondarenko really sounded like they belonged in a recital. I thought Bondarenko's programme a little limited for a competition, and the Schumann an unwise choice, while Flavin, as already mentioned, had probably lost points because she repeated her programme, but they were still the best of the bunch.

Andrei Bondarenko was named Winner of the Song Prize 2011, a popular choice with the audience.

1 comment:

  1. Those who would like to judge for themselves might try BBC Radio 3's website, which presents the grand final Sunday from 12:30 PM Eastern, and the Song Prize final Saturday afternoon from 3:00 PM Eastern.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.