Wigmore Hall 3rd International Song Competition Finals, Wigmore Hall, London 15 September 2001 (PGW)
3rd International Song Competition Finals, Wigmore Hall, London 15 September 2001 (PGW)
The final stage of the International Song Competition began badly, with a half hour recital by a Canadian baritone Tyler Duncan (whose accompanist Erika Switzer was no help to him) which was so dispiriting that we wondered if we would stay the course of a long evening ahead. He was tense and stood rigidly at attention like a soldier, and neither of them seemed to have any idiomatic sense of Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, despite there being so many fine accounts of it on record. The tempo changes were cornered jerkily and unconvincingly, and the piano part was played in a generalised manner, with no period feeling for the place of this innovative cycle in the development of the genre. I feared, not without reason, for the late Fauré to follow, knowing that the great accompanist Dalton Baldwin, a famous specialist in French melodie, was in the jury; their L'Horizon chimérique suggested that they had not heard his recording with Gerard Souzay, nor absorbed the indispensable teachings in Pierre Bernac's definitive book. At this point, one wondered about the other candidates who were not selected for the Finals (about thirty in all took part).
However, things improved, with three excellent singers following, each with notably accomplished piano partners, giving the distinguished jury, which included Felicity Palmer, Elly Ameling, Matthias Goerne & Dalton Baldwin, under the chairmanship of Graham Johnson, what proved to be a prolonged and unenviable task; it has to be borne in mind however that they will have listened through all three stages, ensuring a broader perspective than was available to the packed Wigmore Hall audience of singing connoisseurs for the Finals.
Those three singers have voice registers completely different, as were their chosen repertoires in the final half-hour recitals - so it was not an opportunity to compare like with like. The established English tenor, Daniel Norman, who is featured in the Hyperion Schubert Edition, has a somewhat dry tenor voice, not immediately ingratiating, but he brought intelligent musicality to Schumann and Fauré and offered the most interesting modern novelty of the evening, two quirky e e cummings settings by Julian Philips, a composer not known to me, in which pianist Christopher Gould excelled. Erik Nelson Werner has a rich, even bass-baritone voice and surely a distinguished operatic career ahead. His rather solemn programme of 'wanderer' songs (V-W, Pfitzner & Brahms), followed by Barber, Shostakovich & Fortner, was less varied than I would have wished, but scrupulously prepared and delivered, and impeccably supported by his alert, prompt Japanese partner, pianist Kiai Nara.
My decided personal preference was for Measha Brueggergosman, a Canadian soprano who captured the audience with a rapt Berlioz Le Spectre de la rose, followed by an intense Wagner Wesendonk group. Both these are better known in orchestral versions, and her partner David Eliakis supported her with consummate skill. She lived Wolf's Geh, Geliebter with passionate urgency and found different inflections to Ach nein each time she decided not to wake her sleeping lover In dem Schatten, exactly as Lotte lehmann had recommended and taught in a memorable Wigmore Hall Master Class long ago. Finally, she became an imperious Spaniard in two little-known Turina sonnets, ensuring my vote for the £500 Audience Prize. Her voice is beautiful and unique, with a range of timbre and intensity, her stage manner is natural and at ease, and she was not afraid to take risks. This is a charismatic singer, who was not playing safe for a 'committee' jury, one whom I would wish to hear soon in a full length recital and in opera.
A word of gratitude and congratulations to the Wigmore Hall for supplying full words and translations of all the songs, so that listeners could better participate in this absorbing event.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Results These became available after the above report was completed on the Wigmore Hall website http://www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/
© Peter Grahame Woolf