Walter Hall at lunchtime today saw the annual recital for the winners of the Norcop Prize in song and the Williams Koldofsky Prize in Accompanying. The winners this year were baritone Korin Thomas-Smith and pianist Joy Lee. It was a very well constructed recital. It was all English language and consisted of three sets of highly contrasted moods.
First up was Robert Fleming’s The Confession Stone; setting texts by Owen Dodson relating the life of Jesus prom his mother’s point of view. I think this was the first time I heard a man sing it. It’s very beautiful, sometimes witty and sometimes very, very sad. It’s also a test of stamina with nine songs of some complexity. It was brought off with considerable control and a fair bit of drama. Nicely done.
The second set consisted of three Robert Owens’ settings of texts by Claude McKay; “The Lynching”, “If We Must Die” and “The White Fiends”. I was completely unfamiliar with either composer or librettist. It comes as no surprise that both were African-American (though McKay was born in Jamaica). These are angry songs; songs of Resistance. I think we can compare them with music by Jewish composers in the 1930s protesting another deadly oppression based on race. I think it was brave to programme these works and they were very well performed. Hat tip to Joy here too because the piano part is complex and difficult.
The final set was a complete contrast. Korin reappeared in a flamingo shirt to perform Peter Tiefenbach’s setting of Jame sOstime’s The Long Walk Home; a hilarious little tale of a social media age date that goes horribly wrong. What was apparent here was a genuine flair for comedy with impeccable timing and a remarkable ability to engage the audience. It wasn’t overtly showy but it was quite captivating.
The encore was, perhaps inevitably, a spiritual. In any event it was a fitting end to an extremely well planned and executed recital. I think we shall be seeing more of these two.