7th Handel Singing Competition

Written by: John T. Hughes

Handel

Samson – Let the bright seraphim

Rodelinda – Ritorna, oh caro

Alcina – Tornami a vagheggiar

Erica Eloff (soprano)

Saul – Sing not, O Saul

Tamerlano – O sempre avverso Dei

Serse – Ombra mai fù

Greg Tassell (tenor)

Serse – So bramate d’amor

Imeneo – Pieno il core

Rinaldo – Venti, turbini

Clara Mouriz (mezzo)

Judas Maccabaeus – The Lord worketh wonders

Esther – Turn not, O Queen

Sosarme – Sento il cor

Orlando – Sorge infausta

Lisandro Abadie (bass-baritone)

Tu fedel? tu costante – Cento belle

Solomon – Can I see my infant gor’d

Rodelinda – Mio caro bene

Rhona McKail (soprano)

Members of the London Handel Orchestra

Laurence Cummings

St. George’s, Hanover Square, London

Thursday 3 April 2008

The final of the 7th Handel Singing Competition took place in St. George’s, Hanover Square, whose pews must be among the creakiest, most uncomfortable in London. Members of the London Handel Orchestra were directed by Laurence Cummings, giving stylish support to the five singers (as compared to six in 2007).

Erica Eloff, from South Africa, opened the proceedings. She included two arias which demanded technical virtuosity in coloratura. Not only did she manage the testing divisions of ‘Let the bright seraphim’ with great fluency and a big, full tone but she introduced well defined decorations, as she did in a fine display of her range and of variety of shadings in ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’: an exciting piece of singing. Between those arias she sang a good line, with quiet introspection, in her “Rodelinda” aria, showing that she could shape a slow melody with elegance. I fest that the others would have to do well to beat her.

The single tenor, Greg Tassell, made a poor choice in his programming, or was given bad advice. His three arias, shortish, were all slow and did not test his upper range, lying mostly in the middle of his voice, which is pleasant enough. If, however, he has thoughts of singing Handel, he will need to show vocal agility. The fact that he included nothing to demonstrate Handelian flexibility makes one wonder if he can do so.

The focused tone of Spanish mezzo Clara Mouriz was a pleasure in itself. She had the ability to move rapidly through ornate scalework, her notes cleanly delineated without a “machine-gun” approach. The arias from “Serse” and “Rinaldo” showed easy production of the voice in quick music. Questions were raised among the audience in the interval over her choice of the “Imeneo” piece. It lasted a few second short of 12 minutes, extremely slow, and one wondered whether such a long aria did her any favours in a competition, despite her fine phrasing. She was my second choice.

From Buenos Aires came bass-baritone Lisandro Abadie, who produced clean coloratura in the runs of ‘The Lord worketh wonders’ and in the quick-moving ‘Sorge infausta’. How grateful one is to hear a bass who can sing decorative passages without resorting to aspirates. (In fact, I did not notice one contestant aspirating.) He responded well to the slow and quiet aria from “Esther”. The voice itself is not exactly orotund, the bottom being rather dry, though the notes were there. The upper half had more ring.

Finally came someone who gave a brief introduction to each of her choices. Rhona McKail, from Scotland, sang fluently, easily despatching the fioriture of ‘Mio caro bene’, yet it was her responsive singing of ‘Can I see my infant gor’d’, with good phrasing, which pleased me. Her tone was somewhat unvaried throughout her programme, with little change of colour.

Last year, my “winner” was not the one chosen by the judges. This year, they (Ian Partridge, Catherine Denley, Gillian Fisher, Michael Chance and John Mark Ainsley) and I agreed that the first prize, the Adair Prize of £2000, should go to Erica Eloff. Second, winning the Michael Oliver Prize of £1000, was Rhona McKail. Clara Mouriz won the Audience Prize of £250. All five singers were awarded £500 for reaching the final.

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