Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2004

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Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 29 April, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

I attended the Semi-finals on 27 April, and the Final on the 29th.

Some young singers seem to try virtually every competition for which they are eligible; to others, such ‘gladiatorial’ spectacles are anathema. The winner of the Ferrier Award carries away £10,000, the runner up £5,000, while a song prize of £2,500 is also to be gained. Attracted by these sums, and conscious of the prestige, 65 entrants sought the prizes this year. Most of them were British, whilst the few foreigners are studying in this country. Thus the Ferrier competition is more a national than an international one unlike the “Cardiff Singer of the World”, which carries the greater cachet.

The judges this year, under the chairmanship of Sir John Tooley, were Marie McLaughlin, Diana Montague, Robert Lloyd and Iain Burnside. Mr. Lloyd must have felt somewhat isolated, for not one of these 65 hopefuls was a fellow bass: the nearest were two bass-baritones, neither of whom reached the semi-finals. Those who did were four sopranos, one mezzo, three tenors and two baritones. All the sopranos and a single tenor were chosen for the final.

One of the unsuccessful tenors was Mark Chaundy, whose pleasant, sturdy tone was, on this occasion, lacking a strong top, but if selects well he should have a creditable career. The other tenor not to reach the final, Eyvi Eyjolfsson, from Iceland but studying at the Guildhall, displayed an easy platform manner and a lighter tenor, essaying “Where’er you walk” and the Aubade from Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys in his quartet of solos. It was good to hear some shading of the tone.

The mezzo, Frances Bourne, seemed confident, but her sound had a hard edge: somewhat cutting in the Wigmore Hall, and her delivery could have been smoother, but she should do well. I am usually put on my guard when I read that a singer has been an adult member of a cathedral choir, for often over-stressed enunciation replaces legato. With Edmund Connolly it was less that than the fact that he had what might be called a ‘church voice’. It had little ring and seemed to be crying to be set free. In great contrast was the other baritone, William Berger, possessor of a rich, resonant sound and capable of singing a smooth musical line in “Ah, per sempre” (I Puritani). I was not the only member of the audience who was surprised by his exclusion from the final. To judge by what he sang here, he is worthy of a successful operatic career.

Five singers were chosen for the finals. All the people to whom I spoke nominated Claire Booth and Kate Royal; almost all of them proposed Martene Grimson and Andrew Kennedy; more uncertainty surrounded Swedish soprano Susanna Andersson, whose coloratura had some punch but whose intonation was occasionally questionable. Kennedy’s clean, open sound was marred a bit in the Strauss and Duparc songs by his over-singing, whereas Grimson’s Duparc song, “L’invitation au voyage”, was sung with shimmering tone. Indeed, her voice was very agreeable to my ears, as was Booth’s with its attractive quick flicker and focused tone. Also well focused was Royal’s voice, and she gave one of the afternoon’s best performances in a wistful, reflective, controlled “Adieu, notre petite table” from Manon.

So to the final on Thursday evening in a well-filled Wigmore Hall. Martene Grimson opened the batting but seemed on less good form than two days earlier. I liked her “Nacht und Träume”, sung with a good line, and thought her Manon Gavotte effective. Andrew Kennedy began with an unusual choice: “It is a curious story” (The Turn of the Screw). He needed to caress “Elle ne croyait pas” (Mignon) more, which he may do when free of the constraints of a competition. (How individual can one be in such circumstances?) Ivor Gurney’s “Sleep” suited him well. Last before the interval was Miss Andersson. I lost interest in her choice of two Elizabeth Maconchy songs: not because of Andersson’s singing. Her vivacious interpretation of “Glitter and be gay” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide had her managing the chromaticisms, but sometimes intonation was faulty elsewhere.

The second part of the final was divided between the Misses Royal and Booth. The former, with a Felicity Lott-like elegance, gave a well-sculpted “Porgi amor”, a sprightly “Prendi, per me sei libero” (L’elisir d’amore) and finished with “O waly, waly”. Some singers like to end with a flourish, dazzling the listener, but Royal went the other way: rather bravely, as my neighbour said, but very convincingly. It was with a lively performance of an excerpt from Poulenc’s “Les mamelles de Tiresias” that Claire Booth concluded both her contribution and the competition. I again found her voice most pleasing, in both its quality and its use, and she is one whom I should much like to hear again.

And the result? My own choice for the First or Second prize was either Claire Booth or Kate Royal. I had one ‘right’. Miss Booth was not placed, but Miss Royal was declared winner of the £10,000 award, with Andrew Kennedy taking second place. The song prize was given to Susanna Andersson.

A separate prize, of £2,000, for the best accompanist was won by Annabel Thwaite, who partnered Miss Andersson, though Adrian Kelly must have been close behind.

There can be only one winner, so the others should not be too downhearted. They reached the final, and in recent years unsuccessful participants have included James Rutherford, Roderick Williams, Alice Coote and one Ian Bostridge, and they have not done too badly.

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