NZSM voice students on show at Lower Hutt

Selections from Mozart operas, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers; and songs by Bernstein, Brahms, Vaughan Williams, Wolf, Warlock, Keel, Franchi, Schumann and Mussorgsky

New Zealand School of Music Voice Students: Isaac Stone, Laura Dawson, Fredi Jones, Daniela Young, Simon Harnden, Awhina Waimotu, Christina Orgias; accompanied by Claire Harris, Douglas Mews, Emma Sayers

St. Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, 29 September, 12.15pm

A wide-ranging programme gave opportunity for NZSM students of Richard Greager, Margaret Medlyn, Flora Edwards and Jenny Wollerman to demonstrate their skills. The printed programme did not state, but I suspect some of these students are at an early stage of their study. However, all acquitted themselves well in front of an audience, and did not exhibit obvious signs of nervousness.

All sang in at least two languages, and some in three, the languages being Italian, German and English.

Unfortunately I missed the first item, and a large part of the second. The first singer, Isaac Stone, sang two further items. The second, Laura Dawson, sang three songs from I Hate Music, a cycle of ‘Five Kid Songs for soprano by Leonard Bernstein (both text and music), which is purportedly sung by a ten-year-old girl. What little I heard sounded very competently sung, if rather too powerfully for a ten-year-old.

Fredi Jones then sang the first of his three items: ‘Deh! Vieni alla finestra’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Jones has a fine voice, at times making a beautiful sound, but he was not enough the seducing Don. He and others of the less experienced singers may well develop characterisation with time. Later in the programme, he sang ‘Widmung’ from the song cycle Myrthen by Schumann. This suited him better than the Don’s aria, and he used his voice to good advantage, although his tone was weaker in the quiet singing. Nevertheless, it was a good performance. His last item was ‘Take a pair of sparkling eyes’ from The Gondoliers. This was pleasantly performed, but again there was not enough character in voice or language for what is a comic opera aria. The singer needed to pretend that none of us knew it, and that what he was so clearly enunciating was new to us.

After Jones’s Mozart aria we had another from the same opera: ‘Batti, batti, o bel Masetto’, sung by Daniela Young. She presented this very skilfully; her clear lovely voice contained plenty of expression. Later, she gave us Vergebliches Ständchen by Brahms, with energy, and impeccable German. Perhaps she needed a little more contrast vocally between the imploring man wishing the young woman to open the door, and the young woman’s replies that she will not let him in.

The next singer was Simon Harnden. He sang first Sapphische Ode by Brahms, and then ‘The Vagabond’ from Songs of Travel by Vaughan Williams, the latter to Robert Louis Stevenson’s text. These songs are both quite lovely, and favourites of mine. Harnden has a good baritone, but his intonation was insecure at times. In the former he did not develop the long notes, and his German was indistinct. The latter featured clearer words, though I was not so keen on ‘Oi’ for ‘I’ or ‘loif’ for ‘life’. Again, he had difficulty in sustaining correct pitch.

However, he came into his own in the last item: Mussorgsky’s Song of the Flea. The tessitura of this song, employing his lower register, seemed to suit him much better. It made his singing more effective, his intonation was better, and he put more character into the performance. He did not do all the difficult runs fully, but made this a most enjoyable final item.

The next singer, following Harnden’s second song, was Awhina Waimotu. She sang first one of Wolf’s Mörike lieder, Verbogenheit. There is a very pleasant, full quality to her voice, but intonation was not always secure. She conveyed the character of the song well, and her high notes were beautifully pure. Her second performance was of ‘Amore è un ladroncello’ from Così fan tutte by Mozart. Tone was very good, and this is a voice that would carry well in an opera house. The sense of the aria was conveyed well, but it is a difficult aria, and it did not quite come off. Again, there were intonation problems.

Isaac Stone then sang Peter Warlock’s Lullaby. His voice is pleasant but not large. This suited a lullaby, but despite it being in English, I did not gain much of a feel for the meaning of this song. He followed this with Frederick Keel’s Trade Winds. This was a more enjoyable performance, of a song I remember singing at primary school. Keel’s evocative music for Masefield’s words communicate the meaning splendidly.

Christina Orgias began with a Wolf song that was left out of the printed programme: Anakerons Grab. This was a lyrical and expressive performance – yet this setting of Goethe perhaps needs a little more maturity to render the poem completely. It ws gratifying to see the second song, Treefall by New Zealand composer Dorothea Franchi, with text by Jean Hill, included. Franchi’s writing is delightful and renders the account of a special tree that had been felled in touching manner. Christina Orgias put the story over well, and showed excellent breath control.

Naturally, there was variation between the singers, but the audience was privileged to hear some fine singers and a number of very promising performances. There is no doubt that the university singers get more opportunities for public performance than they did a number of years ago, thanks to the number of lunchtime concerts occurring weekly in the capital and Lower Hutt, and the performances that the School of Music itself is mounting.