That which had to be done is done. What follows is a write up from my notes of Sunday’s art song final. Please bear in mind that I was less than fully emotionally engaged and you may well prefer Gianmarco Segato’s thoughtful review.
Julien van Mellaerts sang first. He started off in conventional territory with Strauss, Schumann and Wolf; showing good command of the Lieder style, expressiveness and a willingness to vary dynamics. A pleasing version of Adams’ For You There is No Song was followed by the weird and somewhat chilling Genius Child by Owens; a neat contrast. The set concluded with Debussy’s Trois ballades de François Villon. There was some lovely, delicate singing here with some ravishing floating notes. Overall, as in the previous rounds, very good stuff without, perhaps, having the X factor.
Gemma Summerfield started, perhaps surprisingly, with some Sibelius. It was a good choice. She built on the simple folksong-like Vilse through the more dramatic Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings mote to a lovely version of Se’n har jag ej frågat mera where she darkened her timbre to good effect. She also showed her ability to make every word count, whatever language she sings in. A selection from Quilter’s Seven Elizabethan Lyrics showed off multiple aspects of her voice and were followed up by a technically accomplished version of Maconchy’s Sun, Moon and Stars. Two Debussy Aquarelles followed before a concluding pair of Strauss songs. The Strauss was lovely and it says everything about where I was mentally that I was unmoved by it.
After the interval we heard John Brancy. It was a more restrained performance than in the semis though hardly undramatic.He kicked off with a beautiful account of Browne’s To Gratiana Singing and Dancing and followed it with three Ives songs. These included In Flanders Fields and Tom Sailed Away; songs that I absolutely loathe, but I’ll admit to being impressedby, even enjoying, Brancy’s very lyrical account of them. Some delicate Poulenc was followed by a demonstration of Lieder technique in three Schubert songs. I really liked his emotional but not over-sung Du bist die Ruh. Two contrasting Rachmaninov songs concluded the set. Vesennié vody was highly dramatic though hardly as OTT as the dragon thing from the previous round! A highly competent, well contrasted set.
Last up was mezzo Clara Osowski. Schubert’s An Sylvia made a bright start followed by the darker La mort d’Ophélie by Berlioz. Both were carefully phrased and highly effective. From here the programme veered into generally darker and more emotionally conflicted territory. Two of the songs from Schumann’s Gedichter der Königin Maria Stuart were followed by Fleming’s The Confession Stone. These are all songs of impending loss and were handled with real feeling and some considerable delicacy. Schubert’s equally dark but more dramatic Die junge Nonne followed before a wonderfully engaged finale in Thomson’s A Prayer to Saint Catherine. It says everything that I was deeply moved by this set on an afternoon when I was otherwise emotionally dead.
I haven’t done a “blow by blow” on the pianists but all three of the prize eligible ones; Joāo Araújo, Peter Dugan and Sebastian Wybrew were really excellent and any of the could be in line for the ten grand.
It’s a competition, so what are my picks for the prizes on Thursday night? It’s very, very close and we are comparing four very fine art song singers. That said, on Sunday’s performance I’d go Osowski, Summerfield, Brancy, van Mellaerts but if the judges factor in the earlier rounds Brancy might well move up the rankings. We’ll see.
I missed the aria semis but I’m going to try and catch tomorrow’s final on line.
Photo Credits: Tan Lan Truong