Review: BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Fringe Concerts @ RWCMD

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BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Fringe Concerts – Britten’s Canticles, Llŷr Williams: Songs without Words & Brahms’ Liebeslieder
Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
Wednesday 14th-Friday 16th June 2017 

This June has seen an intense amount of events here in our Welsh capital. There was something for everyone as we had cricket, pop star concerts and of course Cardiff Singer of the World. I gave this year’s main Cardiff Singer events a wide-berth, as it feel like it’s an all or nothing type of fair. It will be another two years until it returns, so I was also sad to miss operatic films at Chapter including Amadeus and Carmen.

Things got off to a grand start with a selection of the Canticles by Benjamin Britten. Whilst 2013 saw his centenary and celebrations surrounding it, there is always more to hear from this outstanding, if very hit and miss English composer. A personal favourite from this selection was the second Canticle, dubbed Abraham and Issac. Hear both tenor and mezzo sing as the Voice of God in creepy harmonies, summoning Abraham to sacrifice his only son. This could be seen as a mini opera as the middle section between father and son is not with dramatic clout and Britten really puts both voices to work, as the piano also as has a predominant role in the drama. The programme didn’t indicate which tenor sang here, so I’ll assume it was Rhodri Jones as the father and mezzo Dawn Burns as his son. Together they were dynamite and really stood out. Pianist Niola Rose, had the clamouring job of accompanying most of the Canticles and at times her playing caught attention with her hand work.

In his third piece “Still falls the rain”, the poetry of Edith Sitwell, is used to great effect in its vivid depiction of the London Blitz. Here, both singer and piano are joined by the French Horn, here played with Fiona Bassett. Her interventions in the score do add to the horror and calamity that were the Blitz. The fourth, “The Death of Saint Narcissus” is for tenor and harp. Mari Kelly did a super job on harp, as the poetry of T.S. Eliot is dense, here marvelling at St. Narcissus, who proposed the idea of having Easter always on a Sunday.

Britten may be an acquired taste, but these students proved their chops in a fitting, bold concert.

Following on the Thursday afternoon, was Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams play Songs without Voices. This mostly Wagner heavy concert, featured the talents of Franz Liszt, who transcribed extracts or “bleeding chunks from his larger operas. Here, Llŷr could do no wrong. The sweeping early Romantic style Wagner had is evident in Rienzi and also Tannhäuser. The egomaniac composer never sounded more delightful than in his Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman, played with lightness and colour by Williams. At times he almost appears to turn to us and pull a face of: “Oh yes, wasn’t that lovely…the sounds I just made”. He plays with a furious energy that almost makes you weep and his handling of the keys can never be underestimated. Some Schubert and Verdi were passing attractions in this recital. It was the finale, the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde which blew our socks of. This orgasmic hymn of the power of love only through death, is one of the great moment in all of opera, as Isolde screams here lungs out. Here on piano, it loses little effect and the audience were left reeling after it had drifted away.

A force of nature, not to be reckoned with.

The final afternoon concert, was a mostly Brahms affair. Tenor Andrew Henley need work on his high notes, but did delivery some of his songs in an enjoyable opening set. Nuno Lucas on piano, impressed with evocative Tchaikovsky and excitable Rachmaninov. The Liebeslieder of Brahms was given new life by further singers. It is a telling set of German poetry and has such a melodious gathering of songs you feel an Alpine spring calling. Nicole Boardman, Andrew Henley, Aaron Holmes and Grace Wyatt ploughed through the eighteen songs in a flurry of delight and praise. The words alone were marvellous in their impact and poetry:

Locksmith – get up and make your locks,
locks without number;
for I want to lock up
all the evil mouths.

Cherry and often insightful.

These sort of events shall be missed. We hope the next two years sail by!

Ratings:

Britten’s Canticles: 4 stars
Llŷr Williams: Songs without Words: 5 stars
Brahms’ Liebeslieder: 4 stars

Cardiff Singer of the World will return in 2019. 


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