French Songs definitely allowed – Alliance Française Wellington

Alliance Française Concours de la Chanson

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A new venture by the Alliance Française Wellington, but intended to be annual, this was a competition for singers in two categories of French song: modern songs in the syles of Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and others, and classical mélodie by nineteenth or twentieth century composers.  A prize of $1000 and two terms’ tuition at the Alliance Française was offered to the winner of each category.  Certificates were awarded to second and third place-getters in each.

Frenchman Franck Monnet, author, composer and performer judged the modern category, and experienced New Zealand singer Catherine Pierard judged the classical song section.  They were assisted by Jean-Georges Vendome from the French Embassy in Wellington. The organiser was Dan Tait-Jamieson, President of Alliance Française Wellington, who received considerable assistance from Jenny Wollerman, fine exponent of French song and singing lecturer at the New Zealand School of Music.

A preliminary round was held on Saturday, 19 June, and six finalists selected for the first category and nine for the second, out of a total of 29 entries. While the styles of singing for the two categories are very different, calling into question the wisdom of having a shared competition, nevertheless quite a number of the singers entered both classes.

The singers introduced their selections themselves – with varying success.  In the first class three singers sang without microphone (Edris, van Mellaerts and Smith) while the remaining three used amplification, and these seemed to score well with the judge, who in his remarks at the end said he thought the microphone gives an intimacy between singer and audience.  While we may question this view, it did allow the technician to increase the sound for one singer whose piano accompaniment was too loud.

Amina Edris opened with a Piaf classic: ‘L’Hymne à l’amour’.  She was accompanied by Catherine Norton.  Her style was good, though (thankfully?) she used less portamento than Piaf.  She was confident, projected well, and her language was good.

Next, Daniela-Rosa Young sang ‘Pour que tu m’aimes encore’ by J-J Goldman, a Céline Dion song.  This was not as affecting as the previous offering, but the French pronunciation was even better.  Her accompanist, Paul Carnegie-Johnson was competent, if a little restrained.

Julien van Mellaerts has a big voice, both speaking and singing.  It was pleasant but not distinguished.  His rendition of ‘Vous qui me passez sans me voir’ by J. Hess was cheerful but lacked variation and imagination.  Much repetition meant that not a lot of language was involved.  Julie Coulson expertly accompanied both him and the next singer.  Julien was awarded second place.

Bianca Andrew used the microphone, and impressed as having put a lot of thought into the way she sang ‘Nantes’ by Barbara, and she gave the best introduction so far.  I thought the song a little low for her, meaning that there was little tone on the lowest notes, but otherwise it was a very touching performance, making full use of the microphone to sing this sad song in an intimate way.  Her style was very French as was her little black dress.  Pronunciation and articulation were first class; my friend and I were pleased that she won, since we had picked her for the prize.

Felicity Smith sang without microphone, the bitter-sweet Piaf song ‘Padam, padam’ by N. Glanzberg, with Catherine Norton the fully supportive accompanist.  This was a good performance – intelligent, and with panache and emotion, despite some breathiness. Her French pronuncation was very good indeed.

The final performer, Wallace Gollan sang with the microphone and accompanist Daniel Hales.  Her language and style were thoroughly French, in ‘La jeune fille aux cheveux blancs by Camille.  She used the words with subtlety.  It was a pity that her accompanist, playing without printed music, was too loud.  The balance improved with some knob-twiddling by the technician.  She was awarded third place.

Other words from the judge of this class were to stress the importance of the lyrics, and to note that he thought the singers really made the songs theirs.

The larger category, Mélodie, began with Daniela-Rosa Young singing ‘Absence’ from Nuits d’Été by Hector Berlioz.  This lush song was sung attractively, but slight flat intonation on the top note, too much gesture, and a less than excellent accompanist spoiled the performance somewhat for me.  The words were well produced and the piece was sung with expression.

Julien van Mellaerts’ ‘Le Mendiant’ by Francis Poulenc was accompanied by Julie Coulson,and was sung in good style after a good spoken introduction, but I found the performance somewhat monotonous.  He was placed second in this class also.

Next was the diminutive Xing Xing, who with Julie Coulson sang ‘Il pleure dans mon coeur’ by Debussy (not Débussy as in the programme) most feelingly.  She has a lovely soprano voice and her French language was beautifully produced and accented.  Her interpretation had variety.

Bianca Andrew used her voice and her language skills well in ‘Sanglots’ by Poulenc.  With Julie Coulson she created a range of dynamics.  Bianca was the first to tell us who the poet was; in this case, Apollinaire.  She explained that he was one of the Symbolist poets, and that the words did not really make sense.

Amina Edris gave a rather inadequate introduction, but did say the Massenet’s ‘Elégie’ was originally written for cello and piano, and has had many arrangements.  It was therefore a pity not to learn who wrote the words used in this arrangement.  A confident, strong presentation and an attractive voice went into a very dramatic performance.  Catherine Norton accompanied.  She was placed third.

Elitsa Kappatos gave a very strong and confident performance of ‘Psyche’ by E. Paladilhe, accompanied by Catherine Norton.

Bryony Williams was the winner, singing the well-known Duparc song ‘L’invitation au voyage’. A cheerful and confident singer with quite a fruity voice with plenty of volume, she was supported by accompanist Julie Coulson who played for the next singer also.

Frances Moore sang Duparc also: ‘Au pays où se fait la guerre’, the poem being by Gautier.  Her voice production was very good, and she made a dramatic performance of this quite difficult, long song.

Finally, Felicity Smith with Catherine Norton performed Debussy’s ‘Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maison’, the composer having also written the words.  The drama was presented well, and the singer made good use of her voice, and her facility in the language.  A slight slip and the breathing were minor factors to mar the performance.

The contest had a very high standard.  My conjecture about the awards in the classical section is that the judge went for carrying voices, which would do well on the operatic stage; there is sadly so little public performance of lieder/mélodie/art song these days that these promising singers cannot expect to base a career around such beautiful words and music.

The singers, especially the winners, are to be congratulated on their presentations and their teachers on the skills they have assisted their students to gain.

2 thoughts on “French Songs definitely allowed – Alliance Française Wellington

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