Music by Rossini, Debussy, Finzi, Mozart, Harris, Head, Messiaen, Schumann, Menotti, Donizetti
Rachel Day, Rose Blake, Issac Stone, Sophie Kemp, Laura Dawson, Imogen Thirwall, Michael Gray, Olga Gryniewicz
Accompanist: Emma Sayers (piano)
St.Andrew’s on-the-Terrace, Wednesday, 20th May
Recitals such as these can amount to less than the sum of their parts if not organised and prepared for well; and the announcement at the concert’s beginning that several of the students had colds as a result of excessively wintry weather didn’t do anything to lift expectations of what was to follow to any great extent. However, what we should have taken into account was the enthusiasm and sheer determination of these young singers to make the most of what this concert offered them; and in fact the listening experience was packed with interest and intensity due to every bracket of songs being that particular vocalist’s chance to shine.
Rachel Day had the responsibility of beginning the recital with two songs by Rossini, from a set of three called “La regatta veneziana”, describing the scene at a Venetian gondola race, during which a girl excitedly encourages her lover, both before and during the event, to try his best to win. Her “salty tang” timbre admirably suited the songs, as did her engagingly focused “out-front” projection, putting across plenty of tumbling warmth and enthusiasm, and finding her high notes well. The two Debussy songs that followed were delivered with contrasting subtlety and atmosphere by Rose Blake, “Clair de lune” demonstrating a nice sense of the song’s shape, and “Fantoches” (Puppets) confidently and entertainingly suggesting storytelling abilities.
Isaac Stone was possibly one of the sufferers referred to at the concert’s beginning, as he seemed not to be able to project the lower tessitura of Gerald Finzi’s “Come Away, Death”, although the lighter, more lyrical episodes were nicely shaped, and the expressive points were well noted. “Who is Sylvia” exhibited a similar lyrical sensitivity. Sophie Kemp overcame some nervousness to sweetly deliver Barbarina’s “hankerchief” aria from Mozart’s “Figaro”, and relaxed somewhat into Ross Harris’s setting of Bub Bridger’s “The Swans”, confidently enunciating the meaning of her words.
Laura Dawson’s bracket of Michael Head’s songs was most impressive, her authoritative singing able to make her softer notes “tell” as significantly as her fuller declamations, and her interpretations of each song capturing a unique atmosphere with subtly-applied variation of emphasis and colour (supported by some superb playing from Emma Sayers). After “The Gondolier” came “Rain Storm”, whose opening notes were delicately-coloured and sensitively placed – the singer survived a slight voice-discolouring on the first of two high reaches towards the end, but beautifully managed the second one – altogether, these were a memorable pair of performances. Different, less imposing, but as authoritative in a more whimsical manner was Imogen Thirwall’s singing of Messiaen’s Trois Melodies, varying bright and subtle tones and using face and gesturings well to convey the quizzical sense of “Pourquoi?”, then relishing the wistfulness of the reflective “Le Sourire” (another beautiful accompaniment from Emma Sayers), and the drama and resignation of the final song “La Fiancée Perdue”.
Michael Gray’s ardent, thrusting performances of three of Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” songs were also a highlight of the concert, the first “Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen” bright and eager, urgent to the point of vocal tightness, but with the interpretative heart in the right place; then a delicately-delivered “Hör ich das Liedchen klingen” and a forthright “Ein Jüngling liebt eine Mädchen” with lovely “pinging” notes at the beginning. Finally, Olga Gryniewicz demonstrated her communicative and theatrical skills with two operatic exerpts, the first being “The Black Swan” from Menotti’s spooky “The Medium”, sung with elegant phrase-turnings and nicely-shaped notes, if a bit monochromatic in colour during the middle section, though with fine ardour and a confidently floated high note at the aria’s conclusion. Then, to finish, we were treated to Norina’s cavatina “Quel guardo il cavaliere” from Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”, the opening lyrical and confident, the line drawn strongly, the ensuing coloratura nicely ‘sprung’, warming up as the music dances onwards, and enabling the singer to triumphantly negotiate without mishap the high work at the end – impressive enough!
Very, very great honour and ample plaudits to the participants on this occasion, for giving us a wonderful concert.