Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Welsh Singers Competition

Following on from Natalya Romaniw will be...well, read on MusicWeb International

Funny how time flies. One moment you’re in the shower thinking you have plenty of time to get somewhere, two hours later you’re feeling every tic of the second hand has it in for you as you try to break the land speed record held by Bernie Quicklegs who dashed home from the train station to make it to the toilet at an average speed of 5mph. Official sensors on my heels clocked me in at 4.5mph last night as I was nearly late. Again.

Another example of time flying was the face of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2009 winner Ekaterina Scherbachenko on the back of the programme for last night’s Welsh Singers Competition – the event that provides the Welsh competitor for the biannual event. A year ago she was holding the glass bauble up as champion, a year later and she’s Tatianing it around the globe. A year from now there’ll be another name on people’s lips and the first to enter the frame was the winner of last night’s final.

Deciding to splash out more than usual I opted for a stalls ticket instead of my customary cheapest of the cheap up in the rafters close to humming pieces of machinery. Which seemed like a good idea a couple of weeks ago apart from two things. Firstly, as tickets weren’t shifting to appropriate levels the ticket prices were lowered to £5 a pop across the house if you paid at the door. Secondly, in a break with the usually comfortable seats at St David's Hall I managed to choose a seat with a burgeoning lumpiness. Imagine old train seats that were once comfy and you’ll roughly know what I’m blabbering about.

In case you are wondering, no, I haven’t forgotten why I began writing this post.

The finalists. And if you are a finalist, related to a finalist or are friends with a finalist keep in mind that my musical credentials are written on the back of a soggy piece of the thinnest cardboard ever made.

Split between a mezzo, baritone, soprano and tenor the four finalists each sang four ditties in the worryingly (for me) first part of the evening. Nothing quite strikes fear into my heart as an announcement that the interval will take place after everyone has sung when I’ve just dog gulped a bottle and a half of water. Concentration and minimal movement would be the key to the evening.

Rebecca Afonwy-Jones MusicWeb International

Handel - Giulio Cesare Vani sono i lamenti ... Svegliatevi nel core
Bizet - Carmen Près des remparts de Séville
Berg - Seven Early Songs Die Nachtigall
Rossini - La Cenerentola Nacqui all'affanno ... Non più mesta

Backed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales the first competitor was mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones. It’s never easy (or so I’m told) to sing first at these things but Afonwy-Jones got on with it with no signs of nerves. Very easy on the ear with true mezzo low notes as well as a strong and clean top I was quite taken with her performance. Die Nachtigall was my favourite of her quartet and she left the stage with a solid programme behind her. My only quibble was that some of the tempi with the faster numbers were a bit too slow for my liking.

Samuel Evans MusicWeb International

Handel - Agrippina La mia sorte fortunate
Wagner - Tannhäuser Wie Todesahnung ... O du mein holder Abendstern
Finzi - Earth, Air and Rain The Clock of the Years
Mozart - Le nozze di Figaro Hai già vinta la causa! ... Vedrò mentr'io sospiro

Next up was baritone Samuel Evans. I’m guessing that singing to a panel of judges that happens to include of one of the world’s all time top bass-baritones would freak out the most laid back of characters but to be fair to Evans he got on with the job with little fuss. As with Afonwy-Jones it was a balanced programme with the highlight being the Finzi in which Evans excelled in his story telling. His singing in general was clean and elegant, but a heft was missing that would have had me marking him down as my favourite for the title – this was most evident in the Mozart where I wanted a touch more authority in the voice.

Catrin Aur Davies MusicWeb International

Richard Strauss Vier letzte Lieder Frühling
Catalani La Wally Ebben? Ne andrò lontana
Walton Troilus and Cressida At the haunted end of the day
Verdi La traviata È strano! ... Ah fors'è lui ... Sempre libera

Representing the sopranos of Wales Catrin Aur Davies brought a strictly orchestra only programme to the stage, forgoing the piano of the first two competitors. A force of nature is the best description I can muster for Davies. A brave choice of programme had the audience cheering and some on their feet at the end of her programme. If it’s tormented heroines you want then the next couple of years may see Davies doing the biz to good effect. My only quibble was that there was a tiny lack of colour in her voice at times and that the programme was too similar.

John Pierce MusicWeb International

Mozart Die Zauberflöte Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön
Massenet Manon Instant charmant ... En fermant les yeux
Verdi La traviata Lunge da lei ... De' miei bollenti spiriti
Puccini La bohème Che gelida manina

Last to sing was tenor John Pierce. Opting to begin with the Mozart he introduced himself to the audience in a gentler manner than his fellow competitors had done, and although he too opted out of any lieder singing there was a nice balance to his programme. A sweet sounding voice he sent the audience tenor crazy as he finished. Being slightly less in love with the tenor voice I wasn't so sure. But then he was the only competitor all night to do the hair raising bit with his Manon so I was none the wiser.

Thankfully the jury were pretty sprightly on their feet so the Gordian knot I’d wound myself into was quickly hacked clean and I sped off to the loo – this may not be that important to you, but it certainly was to me and let anyone be forewarned if they fancy popping along next time they might consider dehydration as valid preparation.

But on to the result...

I’d rummaged in my mind over what I’d seen and after debating with myself I decided that my favourite was the mezzo, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones. She’d given a well balanced programme that showed off many aspects of her voice and I never felt that she was struggling with the material. I would have liked a touch more agility with some of her singing, but overall I felt that she had a lot to offer. Though I wouldn’t have been storming the stage if any of the others had been chosen as it had been a close run thing throughout the evening.

Up came the jury and numerous sponsors, with Hans Sachs (Bryn Terfel) sporting an impressive suntan bringing up the rear. After he’d felt the love coming from the audience he got down to business and we discovered that the winner was...dun-dundun-duuuuuuun...John Pierce! As most people were working on the labels mezzo, baritone, soprano and tenor it took an instant for name recognition to kick in. All I knew was that I’ve never met a mezzo called John so my choice wasn’t the winner.

John Pierce and some bloke looking for a Facebook profile pic BBC

Cue wild clapping – some jigging in the stalls by family members (you can’t really get a hip shaking groove on when surrounded by furniture and strangers) – and a beaming winner. Cue more clapping for the other finalists who joined everyone in singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau with the memorable experience of having Hans Sachs singing proudly beside the still beaming winner.

It was a result that I couldn’t argue with as Pierce had been the only singer all evening to make my hair dance and he certainly feels the music he’s performing. So we have the first name for next year’s competition. All that remains is for the remaining twenty-four to be added.

If you fancy hearing last night’s final BBC Radio Cymru are repeating it again this coming Sunday though there seems to be a slight confusion as to when it would be broadcast. I'm sure my ears caught the time of 4pm last night, but checking on the BBC Radio Cymru website the time is for 2.30pm.


  1. Hans Sachs giving prizes out of Nuremberg ??? The world has gone mad ! ;)
    I'll try to hear it on Sunday, they all seem to have fine programs ! (I mean, not boring ones...hehehe)

  2. Demonstrating a complete lack of PR skills I'll be honest and admit that I hadn't thought of the prize angle...damn! ;)

    If you can get it don't be surprised if the only thing you can understand is the singing as it'll be presented in Welsh, which despite rumours is quite nice to listen to...