So the first four semifinalists have sung. It’s interesting. Julien van Mellaerts sang a very restrained, very Liederish set while all three girls were more dramatic. A lot is going to turn on the judges views on the “right way” to do art song. If the prelims are anything to go by I suspect they tend more to the operatic than I do. We shall see.
Julien van Mellaerts kicked off with Schubert. Der Einsame was a model of Germanic restraint but he clearly had plenty of power in reserve and let it out a bit in the more dramatic Rastlose Liebe. Mahler’s Zu Strassburg auf der Schantz was lovely and lyrical and showed real ability to shape a line. Gurney’s In Flanders showed off clean high notes plus a sense of style. His version of Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing? almost teetered into the mannered. It was lovely but a little precious à la Bostridge. Songs by Fauré and Duparc were sung stylishly to round out a set that was very much to my taste but will it please the judges?
Irina Jae-Eun Park was more conventional in her choice of rep this time though I suppose Obradors and Ullmann are not every day choices. There was a definite pattern to her set. The dominant word would be dramatic and she sang out with considerable conviction and rather lovely tone in works by Mendelssohn, Schumann and Bachelet but from where I sat the words were indecipherable. The Obradors and Ullmann numbers were better articulated but clearly musical drama was being privileged over the text.
By contrast Axelle Fanyo was much less operatic than in the previous round. Copland’s Heart, we will forget him was simple, idiomatic and honest. She lapsed rather into the overdramatic with Brahms’ Unbewegte laue Luft but songs by Debussy and Schumann showed some subtlety and attention to text. This carried through numbers by Schumann, Fauré, Zemlinsky and Caplet before finishing up with a deliciously sly version of Bolcom’s Amor. All in all, a really nice set.
Rihab Chaieb closed out the afternoon. I really wasn’t sure about this set and I suspect she’s fighting a cold. Anyway, things started off well with a subtle and controlled account of Hahn’s L’heure exquisite but I was less convinced by the set of three Liszt songs that followed. There were good aspects; diction for instance, but I felt that much of the time she was working against, rather than with, the flashy, typically Liszt, piano line. At times she almost had to scream over the piano though that might have been the cold. Something amiss anyway. (Apparently the balance was better in the balcony, where the judges sit, than on the floor where I was.) Coulthard’s The White Rose was much better and her version of Wolf’s Kennst du das Land showed a nice combination of clarity and emotion. It was a pretty decent set but I’ve definitely heard better from Rihab.
The second tranche of contestants go at 7.30pm tonight.
Photo credits: Tan Lan Truong