Caroline Macphie (soprano) with Joseph Middleton (piano)
The Cunning Little Vixen – Kradla jsem!
An Mignon, D161b
Italienisches Liederbuch – Schweig einmal still; Auch kleine Dinge
Les mamelles de Tirésias – Non, monsieur, mon mari!
Angela Bic (soprano) with Robin Davis (piano)
Singet nicht in Trauertönen, Op.98a/7
Nicht mehr zu dir zu gehen, Op.32/2
Love’s philosophy, Op.3/1
Le nozze di Figaro – Porgi amor
Un ballo in maschera – Morro, ma prima in grazia
Vesennye vod, Op. 14/11
Sarah-Jane Brandon (soprano) with Gary Matthewman (piano)
Louise – Depuis le jour
Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen, Op.12
Chants d’Auvergne – Lou coucut
Le nozze di Figaro – E Susanna non vien … Dove sono
Derek Welton (baritone) with Bojana Dimković (piano)
St John Passion – Es ist vollbracht
Der Wanderer, D493
The House of Life – Silent Noon
Falstaff – È sogno? O realtà?
Monica Bancoş (soprano) with Gary Matthewman (piano)
Vado, ma dove?, K583
Den li tsarit, Op.47/6
Five Elizabethan Songs – Sleep
Les chemins de l’amour
Adriana Lecouvreur – Io son l’umile ancella
Anna Devin (soprano) with Annabel Thwaite (piano)
Le nozze di Figaro – Giunse al fin… …Deh vieni, non tardar
Do not go, my love
Le jardin mouillé
Ich wollt’ein Strãusslein binden Op.62/2
I Puritani – Qui la voce … Vien diletto
Sir John Tooley (Chairman)
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: 24 April, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Much can change on the final lap of the track and so it was here. Caroline Macphie had everything going for her in the Semi-final, drawn in the outside lane and able to see her opponents but was now going first with its attendant disadvantages. To these she added a riskily diverse programme. She is notable for a very physical attitude to communication. Bounding glowing onto the platform, she underlined every point of Bystrouška’s narration from “The Cunning Little Vixen” with a pose, a gesture, a sharply etched expression. With her other operatic offering, the passage accompanying Thérèse’s transformation into Tirésias from Poulenc’s opera, was hilariously mimed but surely a spoken explanation from the performer, such as Macphie preceded her performance with here, has no place in a competition?
Wolf’s “Italienisches Liederbuch” was raided for two contrasted songs, ‘Schweig einmal still’ allowing Macphie to further display extrovert emotion, while ‘Auch kleine Dinge’ is reflective and intimate. James MacMillan’s 1994 setting of William Soutar’s “Ballad”, with its spare accompaniment, offered yet another variation of theme and style. To place Schubert’s strophic “An Mignon” amidst all this exotica just emphasised the plainness of the song. The attempt to show her versatility mis-fired quite badly.
As Mcphie’s star declined, that of Monica Bancoş rose. Too much voice was applied to Mozart’s “Vado, ma dove?” and the low notes can be produced with a kind of gurgle from way back in the throat. Her songs left little to be desired. After the long prelude to Tchaikovsky’s “Den li tsarit”, which only at the last moment settles on the right emotional ethos, the singer always has to work hard to assert himself; Bancoş did so readily. She excelled even more in Gurney’s “Sleep”, her English enunciation very good, the legato admirable. If some will doubtless have disapproved of the operatic style in which she clothed the song, the arms extended in constant beseeching pose, I was thoroughly convinced by it. In a final lunge for the finishing line, Bancoş put all the power and expressiveness of her lyric soprano into Adriana Lecouvreur’s declaration of service to art; her execution of the rising phrases with which it ends was the work of a singer with many successes to come in the theatre. It earned her Second Prize.
There is often the atmosphere of a sporting arena at these events, when the contestants come from academic institutions and bring their course-mates with them. The Guildhall School, I suspect, provided considerable support for both Anna Devin and Derek Welton.
Welton, the only surviving male, had chosen pieces which displayed his voice’s mixture of a resonant bass register and an expressive head voice. This dichotomy was well deployed in Schubert’s “Der Wanderer” but he came unstuck in high-lying passages elsewhere. One feels there is an operatic temperament here eager to express itself, but the energy he unleashed in Ford’s ‘Monologue’ sent Verdi’s subtle characterisation of the suspicious husband spiralling over the top, even if one admired the power and dramatic movement that the singer brought to it.
Devin had seemed to be the audience’s favourite in the Semi-final. Her programme for the Final was uneven. In Susanna’s scena from Act Four of “Le nozze di Figaro” the tone was beautiful but she did not release the magic which lies within it or hint at the irony of the dramatic situation. Musically, her attitude to the appoggiaturas was inconsistent. Her other operatic piece, Elvira’s aria and cabaletta from “I puritani” better displayed her vocal talents. The tone was full and potent, the scales evenly delivered and the acuti ascended excitingly to the top of the Hall, even if their purity was infected by the excessive vibrancy two nights earlier.
For a potential coloratura soprano Devin’s impact in song was considerable. It was delightful to see her include “Do not go my love”, a song once popular among great singers but long fallen from fashion, its style derided as a survival of the sentimental drawing-room genre and its composer, the Dutch-American Richard Hageman, under-rated because of his involvement in the Hollywood film industry. Devin did justice to its long, viscous phrases. In Roussel’s “Le jardin mouillé” her phrasing went hand-in-hand with Annabel Thwaites’s crystalline accompaniment, while in “Ich wollt’ ein Sträusslein binden” she showed the capacity for more weight of tone than this song sometimes receives.
Ascending by size of voice was Angela Bic. It seemed in advance perverse to programme the Countess’s first aria and Amelia’s “Morro, ma prima in grazia” consecutively. In the event, it was the former which turned out to be the less suited to her strong lyric-soprano, rushed and rather untidy, with points of expression brushed over. The Verdi Bic endowed with expansive tone and intensity. A well-planned song component encompassed joviality and gravitas in the German repertoire, an idiomatic performance of Quilter’s “Love’s philosophy” with a mighty climax and the rather hackneyed (in this context) “Spring waters”. She was awarded the Song Prize.
Sarah-Jane Brandon also cast aside fashion and prejudice in including a song by the Victorian/Edwardian Liza Lehmann. Nothing could be more sentimental than the text by Constance Morgan praying to be wrapped in angels’ wings, but the writing is demanding, putting a premium on pure intonation above the stave. Brandon passed but perhaps with merit rather than distinction. A visit to the “Chants d’Auvergne” resulted in an unexpectedly comic souvenir, the cuckoo song from Canteloube’s fourth set, wittily rendered.
Her operatic selections book-ended the songs. Control of the big voice was displayed in “Depuis le jour”. The Countess’s Act Three aria began with her emotional state strongly projected in the recitative and proceeded to an accomplished performance of the aria, with odd moments of slipping intonation. The judges were taking into consideration the entirety of each singer’s performance. Brandon had used the Semi-final to show the power of her lyrico-spinto voice and the extent of her vocal agility. In the final she filled out the picture with displays of lyricism, humour, plus proof of her ability to portray operatic characters in demanding solo music and to sustain extended, testing arias. Sarah-Jane Brnadon was a worthy winner of the First Prize.
The professional accompanists were universally supportive of their singers, indeed inspiring. Gary Matthewman again sounded like a certainty to become the best of the new generation. Robin Davis showed a broader perspective of his skills in the Final, to win the Accompanists’ Prize.