Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The six twenty-minute programmes were, naturally, eclectic and
international though, ranging from Mozart to Mussorgsky, from Puccini to
Poulenc, from Rossini to Ravel. Soprano Nardus Williams had the challenge
of opening the proceedings, with accompanist J?ms Coleman. Currently
studying at the International Opera School at the Royal College of Music,
where she is the sole recipient of the Kiri Te Kanawa Scholarship, this
summer Williams will be a Jerwood Young Artist at Glyndebourne Festival
Opera, before joining the Houston Grand Opera Studio in September. On this
occasion, however, nerves seemed to get the better of her: she struggled at
times to control her intonation and a rather fast, prominent vibrato made
the tone somewhat shrill. Williams looked a little tense in her opening
item, ‘Come scoglio’, and her delivery was rather four-square, though
Coleman’s light-touch add some rhythmic vitality. Indeed, this seemed a
rather ambitious choice as Williams doesn’t yet have the strength and focus
at the bottom to convincingly assail the aria’s highs and lows with equal
presence. Strauss’s ‘C‰cilie’ was more consistently sumptuous and I was
again impressed by Coleman’s judicious accompaniment and sensitive

Two French items allowed Williams to reveal the power of her voice, as she
soared through the closing phrase of FaurÈ’s ‘Fleur jetÈe’ with sustained
strength and crested the climaxes in Charpentier’s ‘Depuis le jour’ (from Louise) with a shimmering frisson. I’m not sure the French idiom
is Williams’ natural territory though: the projection was a little too
forthright and the diction less than clear. The soprano was most at home in
Barber’s lyrical ‘Saint Ita’s Vision’, where she thoughtfully shaped both
the declamatory recitative and the changing contours of the ensuing lullaby
to convey the mother’s changing emotions, delicately supported by the
gently placed spread chords of the accompaniment.

Bass-baritone Samuel Carl fairly bounded onto the Wigmore Hall platform and
displayed a strong theatrical instinct throughout his programme with
pianist Soohong Park. ‘I rage … O ruddier than the cherry’, from Handel’s Acis and Galatea, in which the smitten cyclops, Polyphemus,
expresses both his jealousy and passion for the sea nymph Galatea, was
strongly characterised and full of varied colours. Carl was attentive to
the text, the gaping descent of his ‘capacious mouth’ prompting a chuckle
from the capacity audience and the sincerity of his love captured by the
floating glide with which he worshipped ‘Sweet Galatea’s beauty’. Park
summoned an eerie darkness at the start of Mussorgsky’s ‘Trepak’ (from Songs and Dances of Death), in which the bass-baritone again used
his voice to explore diverse moods, from sweetness to mystery, belligerence
to indifference. The rhetoric was powerful but Carl wasn’t afraid to
diminish his voice and make us listen hard.

Through these first two items, I wondered if at times the ‘theatricality’
wasn’t a little too ‘busy’, even distracting, and in John Ireland’s
perennially popular ‘Sea-fever’ more stillness and focus would have been
advantageous in capturing the effortless gentility of the folk-like idiom.
Carl was in his element in Leporello’s ‘Madamina, il catalogo Ë questo’
(from Don Giovanni), flourishing a ‘little red book’ from his
inside pocket to taunt the imagined Elvira, but while he certainly
inhabited the character and drama, Carl paid insufficient attention to the
rhythmic tautness and to the shaping of the phrase endings. Overall,
though, this was a confident, entertaining and engaging sequence.

The finalists are required to include at least one song in English.
Contralto Stephanie Wake-Edwards tackled three, beginning with ‘Never so
weary’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which Hermia, her pride
wounded by Helena’s insults and her heart pained by Lysander’s apparent
betrayal, wanders alone in the wood before sleep overcomes her. I was
impressed by the manner in which Wake-Edwards used her rich, well-focused
contralto to immediately establish character and mood, and the ensemble
between the contralto and pianist Thormod R¯nning Kvam in the recitative
was flawless. Well-centred intonation and carefully crafted phrasing
created a somnolent ‘strangeness’ in the ensuing aria. The warm flowering
of harmonic colour in the piano accompaniment at the start of Richard
Strauss’s ‘Das Rosenband’ was welcome after the cool intimacy of Britten’s
nocturnal woods and although Wake-Edwards didn’t always have the full
measure of the expansiveness of Strauss’s melody, there were signs of an
incipient Straussian plumpness and flush, particularly at the close when
‘Paradise bloomed about us’.

Wake-Edwards returned to Britten with Lucretia’s ‘Flower Song’ from The Rape of Lucretia, written for Kathleen Ferrier who performed
the title role at Glyndebourne in 1946. The aria is sung by the shamed
Lucretia the morning after she has been raped by Tarquinius. Ronald
Duncan’s text presents the rather questionable proposition that while
flowers are always ‘chaste’, all women are ‘debauched’ by ‘vanity or
flattery’: ‘Women bring to every man/The same defection’. Dubious tenets
aside, the aria is one of beautiful melodic sincerity and here the piano
bass line provided a sure anchor for Wake-Edwards clean, round vocal tone.
She certainly acts with her voice, but here and in Elgar’s ‘Sea
slumber-song’ which closed her programme, I felt that at times the
contralto pulled the words around a little too much, distorting and
elongating vowels into somewhat odd shapes. However, she made a good
attempt to capture the languor of the French prose in Ravel’s account of
the innate regality of the peacock, as he awaits his bride, in Ravel’s ‘Le
paon’ from the musical menagerie, Histoires Naturelles. Kvam made
much of Elgar’s wonderful piano sonorities and gently rocking lilt, and if
I’d have liked Wake-Edwards to make more of the dynamic contrasts and
deepen the shine of the melodic line, then she demonstrated that her
contralto certainly has a secure and wide compass, as she plummeted
resonantly, ‘on the shadowy sand’.

After a short interval, soprano Josephine Goddard and pianist Elliot Launn
invited us on a journey, opening their programme with a gorgeous and
utterly absorbing performance of Duparc’s ‘L’invitation au voyage’ in which
the soprano spun the high line with a silvery gleam above Launn’s
delicately trickling accompaniment. Here, again, was the vocal elegance I
admired when I saw Goddard perform the role of Adolfo in the 2017 London
Handel Festival production of


, and the well-shaped melodism that Goddard demonstrated as Helena in

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

at the Royal College of Music earlier this year was again in evidence in
MimÏ’s ‘Donde lieta uscÌ’ in which strength of line was complemented by an
appealing ‘freedom’ in the voice. Goddard controlled both dynamics and tone
effectively, injecting a lovely flush of colour at the close, when the
dying MimÏ offers Rodolfo her pink bonnet as a memento of her love.

Launn’s steady, precise and gently articulated piano chords contributed
greatly to a well-structured rendition of the ‘Nocturne’ from Britten’s
1937 song-cycle On this Island, in which the simple melodic line
was expertly controlled and shaped creating a wonderfully serene image of
the world sleeping as the globe spins ‘through night’s caressing grip’.
Goddard coolly negotiated the sometimes surprising harmonic twists of the
song, making much of the dissonance at the close, ‘Calmly till the morning
break,/ Let him lie,’ before slipping easefully into the final
cadence, ‘then gently wake’. Written for Peter Pears, and more commonly
sung by the tenor voice, this song perhaps acquired even greater serenity
from the sweetness of Goddard’s soprano. Rosalinde’s homeland
reminiscences, from Johann Strauss junior’s Die Fledermaus), swept
us from soothing slumber to champagne-fuelled masquerade. The aria ranges
high and deep, but the soprano soared smoothly and evening through the
melodic arcs. Goddard’s German was also excellent, and she paced the
growing exuberance of the Cs·rd·s perfectly, gradually ratcheting up the
tempo and allowing the ‘Hungarian Countess’s’ high spirits free rein at the
close. The Wigmore Hall audience loved it.

William Thomas .jpgWilliam Thomas (bass): Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018, First Prize.

William Thomas and pianist Michael Pandya adopted a more sombre tone at the
start of their sequence of Russian, French, Italian and English songs, but
the dark whispering of the Dawn to the Heavens – ‘I love thee well’ – at
the opening of Rachmaninov’s ‘Utro’ (Morning) was no less striking. Thomas
has a ‘real’ bass voice: full and ringing right at the bottom; layers of
colour that blend smoothly and thickly; sonorous roundness without
heaviness. Rachmaninov’s vocal line is quite austere in this early song,
but Thomas injected interest into the fairly narrow melodic compass and
limited gestures, capturing the gravity which derives from the careful
intonation of the language and the intensity of the text’s romantic
imagery. Pandya cherished the delicate pianism. In Poulenc’s ‘Mazurka’ from Mouvements du Coeur the duo offered a masterclass in how to build
through a strophic form. Thomas displayed evenness across the range and a
lyricism which brought depth of character to the melodic lines which
present a series of disparate images.

Thomas demonstrated his adaptability and diversity in Don Basilio’s ‘La
calunnia Ë un venticello’ (from Il barbiere di Siviglia),
capturing every ounce of Basilio’s delight in cruelly baiting Bartolo with
tales of Rosina’s faithlessness, of his suave self-confidence as he admires
his own chicanery, and of his inflated egoism as he imagines the whirlwind
of vicious gossip he will conjure and the resulting apocalyptic downfall of
his intended victim. There was no loss of musicality as the patter picked
up pace, once again showing intelligent appreciation of the architecture of
the form, and the text was consistently idiomatic and clear.

Thomas proved himself not just a good actor, but a persuasive storyteller
too, in Mussorgsky’s setting of Mephistopheles’s ‘Song of the flea’,
delivering a darkly devilish account of the lavish attention bestowed by a
king on his pet flea, to the detriment of his court and at the expense of
his aristocratic courtiers’ comfort. Pandya’s accompaniment was full of
drama, too, adding to the quasi-operatic scale. And, in the final item,
Katie Moss’s ‘The floral dance’, the slightest freedom in the placement of
the second beat in the triple-time lilt creating a lovely carefree air
fitting for this bucolic celebration of spring’s arrival. With a skilfully
controlled accelerando, Thomas conveyed the genuine ardour of youthful
passion as every Cornish lad grabbed a girl by the waist and whisked her
off, kissing and dancing: ‘Up and down, around the town/ Hurrah! For the
Cornish Floral Dance.’

Catriona Hewitson and Eleanor Kornas had had a long wait, but the
Scottish-born soprano and her accompanist made a confident start to their
programme with Annette’s ‘Einst tr‰umte … Tr¸be Augen’ from Weber’s Der Freisch¸tz. Hewitson crafted the arioso effectively and her
light, clean soprano had a thrilling glossiness as Annette recounted her
cousin’s fervent prayer: ‘Susanna, Margaret! Susanna, Margaret!’ The
running passages of the ensuing aria were unforced and free, and Kornas’s
lively responsiveness contributed to a very communicative performance.
Supported by the piano’s soft textures and gentle lilt, the effortlessness
of Hewitson’s vocal ascents in Schumann’s ‘Stille Tr‰nen’ was impressive;
she floated to the top easily and with gracefulness, though I’d have liked
her to have made more of the text.

Two songs by Poulenc were beguilingly idiomatic though. The title of ‘C’,
or CÈ’, is taken from the name of a commune in France, ‘The Bridges of CÈ’,
which had been the site of many historic battles – something that was
surely in Poulenc’s mind when he set Louis Aragon’s text during WW2.
Hewitson and Kornas had the full measure of the song’s shifting
complexities of harmony and rhythm – which match the historic sweep
encompassed by Aragon’s surreal sequence of images – and the challenging
pedalling and dense accompanying chords proved no impediment to limpidity.
The quiet wistfulness at the close was broken by the more bitter chain of
absurd images – ‘pimps in kits’, ‘sly fellows hindered by long noses’,
‘drowned corpses that float beneath bridge’ – which depict life during the
Nazi Occupation, in ‘FÍtes galantes’. A lighter spirit was evoked by
Mozart’s ‘Deh vieni, no tardar’, in which Susanna, in league with the
Countess, sings a seductive song to lure the Count to a nocturnal meeting.
The artless simplicity of the vocal line was beautifully captured by
Hewitson, but though the light clarity was fittingly enticing, this aria is
many-layered, and the innate passion in Susanna’s pleas was missing. For
Figaro has learned of the planned assignation and is listening in; and
Susanna knows it – her promise to ‘wreathe your brow in roses’ is both a
tease and a vow, and the sincerity of the latter needs to be felt too. But,
Hewitson’s directness and lightness was just perfect for Liza Lehmann’s ‘If
no one ever marries me’ which closed the Competition with delicately wry

The six young singers all acquitted themselves well and provided
considerable musical pleasure. No doubt we will be seeing much more of them
in the future. The Jury – Elaine Padmore OBE, John Mark Ainsley, Malcolm
Martineau OBE, Joan Rodgers CBE and David Syrus – awarded the following

First Prize: William Thomas

Second Prize: Josephine Goddard

Ferrier Loveday Song Prize: Catriona Hewitson

Help Musicians UK Accompanist’s Prize: Michael Pandya

Claire Seymour

Nardus Williams (soprano), J?ms Coleman*

Mozart – ‘Temeraro! … Come scoglio’ (from CosÏ fan tutte
); Barber -‘Saint Ita’s vision’; FaurÈ – ‘Fleur jetÈe’; Charpentier –
‘Depuis le jour’ (from Louise); R. Strauss – ‘C‰cilie’

Samuel Carl (bass-baritone), Soohong Park (piano):

Handel – ‘I rage … O ruddier than the cherry’ (fromAcis and Galatea); Mussorgsky – ‘Trepak’ (from Songs and Dances of Death); Ireland – ‘Sea-fever’; Mozart –
‘Madamina, il catalogo

Ë questo’ (from Don Giovanni)

Stephanie Wake-Edwards (contralto), Thormod R
¯nning Kvam* (piano):
Britten – ‘Puppet? Why so? … Never so weary (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream); R. Strauss – ‘Das Rosenband’; Britten
– ‘Flowers bring to every year (from The Rape of Lucretia); Ravel
– ‘Le paon’ (from Histoires Naturelles); Elgar – ‘Sea
slumber-song (from Sea Pictures)

Josephine Goddard (soprano), Elliot Launn* (piano):
Duparc – ‘L’invitation au voyage’; Puccini – ‘Donde lieta uscÌ’ (fromLa bohËme); Britten – ‘Nocturne’ (fromOn this Island); J. Strauss II – ‘Kl‰nge der Heimat’ (from Die Fledermaus)

William Thomas (bass), Michael Pandya* (piano):
Rachmaninov – ‘Utro’ (Morning); Poulenc – ‘Mazurka’ (from Mouvements du Coeur); Rossini – ‘La calunnia Ë un venticello’
(from Il barbiere di Siviglia); Mussorgsky – ‘Pesnya Mefistofelya
o blokhe (Song of the flea)’; Moss – ‘The Floral Dance’

Catriona Hewitson (soprano), Eleanor Kornas* (piano):
Weber – ‘Einst tr

‰umte … Tr¸be Augen’ (from Der Freisch¸tz); Schumann –
‘Stille Tr‰nen’ (Zwˆlf Gedichte von Jusinus Kerner); Mozart –
‘Giunse alfin il momento … Deh vieni, no tardar’ (fromLe nozze di Figaro); Poulenc – ‘C’, ‘FÍtes galantes’ ( Deux poËmes de Louis Aragon); Lehmann – ‘If no one ever marries
me’ (from The Daisy Chain)

* denotes pianist competing for the Accompanist’s Prize

image_description=Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018, Wigmore Hall
product_title=Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018, Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id= Above: Catriona Hewitson, Josephine Goddard, William Thomas and Michael Pandya (Kathleen Ferrier Award prize winners, 2018)