So, the evening session in Bourgie Hall. Gemma Summerfield sang first, kicking off with two Mendelssohn songs. Die Liebende schreibt showed off proper Lieder singing. It was restrained and pure with every word distinct. Hexenlied was appropriately more dramatic but still quite correct with a good sense of story telling. A very good start. Ravel’s Cinq mélodies, which followed displayed excellent French in varied moods and some lovely piano playing from Sebastian Wybrew. There was more of the same from both of them with a lovely version of Korngold’s Drei Lieder before things wrapped up with stylish and entirely idiomatic versions of Bridge’s Go Not Happy Day and Love went a Riding. The latter was an object lesson in how to tell a story without going over the top. This was a very, very fine set and jumped Summerfield to the top of my provisional “leader board”.
Finnish baritone Tomi Punkeri was next. He started off with the Ravel Don Quichotte à Dulcinée songs. These were smooth and not badly acted but a little understated, especially Chanson à boire, and I couldn’t understand his French. He was better in songs by Rautavaara and Brahms and he finished with a set of four Sibelius songs that were both beautiful and expressive and showed off more of his personality and ability to spin a story.
Then it was John Brancy. He opened with Schubert’s Des Fräuleins Liebeslauschen followed by Erlkönig. In the former he lightened up his “opera voice” showing he can sing with a much brighter sound. It was playful and enjoyable. Erlkönig, of course, was much more dramatic. I think I’ve heard the different characters in this song better differentiated but Brancy was good and closed out with a very hushed “der Kind war tod”. Schumann’s Auf der Burg was quiet and classically lyrical and was followed by some carefully controlled Fauré. Sibelius’ Under strandens granar gave Peter Dugan at the piano his chance to shine and then it was Brancy the entertainer. The last two songs were a very dramatic version of Bridge’s Love Went a Riding (quite a contrast to Summerfield’s more restrained approach) followed by Charles’ The Green-Eyed Dragon. This was written for Stanley Holloway and is a music hall song that has been adopted as a closing or encore piece by a lot of singers. Brancy’s version was, properly, completely over the top and had the audience roaring. And that really is Brancy. He’s an entertainer and if his approach sometimes might have shocked Mahler, who cares?
Clara Osowski had the unenviable task of following the dragon. She began with a set of three Schubert songs which were sung sweetly and stylishly with some really nice phrasing. Sibelius’ Den första kyssen showed excellent diction and her version of Vaughan Williams’ Tired was perhaps a little subdued but very beautiful. Fauré’s Clair de lune was classy and two Pierrot songs; from Marx and Poulenc showed excellent musicality in some quite testing material. Thomson’s Let’s Take a Walk was the popular finish in the American way. All in all a pleasing set that stood up well even after the theatricals that preceded it.
Photo credits: Tan Lan Truong