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NZSM voice students at St Andrew’s for lunch

By , 12/05/2010

Voice students from the New Zealand School of Music, accompanied by Emma

Sayers: Imogen Thirlwall, Xingxing Wang, Laura Dawson, Thomas Barker,

Bridget Costello, Olga Gryniewicz 

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 12 May, 12.15pm

We are in the season of mid-year, students’ recitals from the New Zealand School of Music; in this, we had five women and one man in a programme that was varied and delightful.

Though I missed the first three songs, from Imogen Thirlwall and Xingxing Wang, they both reappeared later so that I could gain some impression of their talents.

Laura Dawson had just begun Der Nüssbaum from Schumann’s cycle Myrthen as I entered and I was at first enchanted by the simple beauty of her voice and its easy delivery, even in quality throughout its range; her style was appropriate, warm and lyrical. But in her second song, Jemand, her relaxed and rather unvaried interpretation didn’t meet its demands so well. It needed a little more energy.

Baritone Thomas Barker sang what turned out to be the centre-piece of the concert: Ravel’s three songs, Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. They come at the end of Ravel’s life, yet offer no hint of any fall-off in inspiration or liveliness; they were an entry to a competition for music for Pabst’s film Don Quixote which featured Shaliapin. Ravel was slow and the award was eventually given to Ibert. But it is Ravel’s songs that have lived.

I had just been reading a chapter on Ravel by Australian critic and composer Andrew Ford. “Perhaps it s the restraint that endears this composer and his music to an age that shows little restraint of its own. … he never harangues us, never forces an emotional response, never tells us what to think or how to feel…Instead he offers us his expensive distractions, which are always made to he highest standard. And he keeps his distance.” I love ‘expensive distractions’; I have long felt that Ravel’s music is one of the best of all possible models to present to aspiring composers: not for the young the voluptuousness of Daphnis et Chloë, but rather the brilliance, clarity and restraint of the piano music, and the precisely captured images in the chamber music and songs such as these.

Barker is on the way; while he sounded uneasy taking the corners of the first song, Chanson romanesque, his Chanson à boire was confident, his voice strong and even; a riotous little triumph. And Emma Sayers played a brilliant piano part. 

I last heard Bridget Costello at this church last September, and again enjoyed her singing. Duparc’s Chanson triste is mature music that probably comes more easily to a singer with more years of experience and pain; yet this seemed a fine Duparc voice in the making, still a bit thin at the top but expressing a calm and sincere emotion.

Later she sang a song by Dorothea Franchi, one of New Zealand’s most talented song-writers: Treefall. The air of awe at the danger, the magnitude and monstrousness of the act were more than hinted at. 

Xingxing Wang was a voice new to me. Though Mimi’s Act I aria is so familiar its difficulties are real and they were evident in this performance; she did well, but the creation of a steady, legato line sometimes eluded her. And her interpretation captured little of Mimi’s shyness and vulnerability, and the intimacy of her self-revelation.

The extravert ‘Je veux vivre’ from Roméo et Juliette suited her far better; at this stage it’s her soubrette quality that is most conspicuous, and she carried it off with a carelessness that is the essence of Juliette’s feeling in this scene.

Olga Gryniewicz has had a high profile in the school’s performances and while her voice still displays shortcomings, the top of her register and her agility are striking. Two Rachmaninov songs, in Russian, offered strong contrast: the panic of Loneliness, conveyed through some taxing, very high, florid passages; and ‘How beautiful this place’, much more romantic and lyrical yet still calling for some stratospheric notes.

I’d have liked to hear Imogen Thirlwall in Roussel’s Le bachelier de Salamanque which was the first item on the programme, for I was a little disappointed in her singing Pamina’s aria, ‘Ach, ich fuhl’s’ from The Magic Flute. An attractive voice, but her intonation was shaky occasionally and she has yet to gain confidence in expressing emotion – the loss and perplexed pain that Pamina feels at this point.

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