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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

 

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Twenty Years of BBC Singer of the World in Cardiff
DVD: Competition Winners
1983: Karita Mattila

‘Donna Anna’s Aria’ from Don Giovanni- Mozart [2’43"]
‘Leise, Leise’ from Der Freischütz – Weber [8’30"]
Award presentation [0’38"]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Armstrong
1985: David Mallis

‘E ‘un sogno’ [Ford’s Monologue} from Falstaff – Verdi [4’39"]
‘Largo al factotum’ from The Barber of Seville – Rossini [4’45"]
Award presentation [1’07"]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Armstrong
1987: Valeria Esposito

‘Comme autrefois’ from The Pearl Fishers – Bizet [6’37"]
‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ from La Rondine – Puccini [2’59"]
‘Qui la voce sua soave’ from I Puritani – Bellini [6’09"]
Award presentation [1’07"]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Armstrong
Julian Smith (accompanist)
1989: Dmitri Hvorostovsky

‘Eri tu che macchiavi’ from Un Ballo in Maschera – Verdi [6’17"]
‘Jeletzky’s Aria’ from Queen of Spades – Tchaikovsky [5’09"]
‘Rodrigo’s Aria’ from Don Carlos – Verdi [4’55"]
‘The death of Rodrigo’ from Don Carlos – Verdi [3’50"]
Award presentation [1’01"]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Armstrong
1991: Lisa Gasteen

‘Dich, tuere Halle’ from Tannhaüser – Wagner [3’36"]
‘Schlafst du, Gast?’ from Die Walküre – Wagner [5’49"]
‘Pace, pace, mio Dio’ from La Forza Del Destino – Verdi [5’35"]
Award presentation [1’08"]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Guido Ajmone-Marsan
1993: Inger Dam-Jensen

‘Amor’ from Six Songs (Brentano-Lieder), Op.68, No 5 – R. Strauss [3’11"]
‘Misera, dove son? Ah, non son io che parlo’ K369 – Mozart [6’46"]
‘Let the bright Seraphim’ from Samson – Handel [5’29"]
Award presentation [1’22"]
BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Guido Ajmone-Marsan
Christen Stubbe (accompanist)
1995: Katarina Karnéus

‘Ging heuf morgen über’s Feld’ from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen – Mahler [4’23"]
Seguidilla: ‘Près des remparts de Séville’ [2’17"]
‘Heart, we will forget him’ from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson – Copland [2’19"]
‘Why do they shut me out of heaven?’ from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson Copland [2’03"]
‘Nacqui all’affanno/Non piu mesta’ from La Cenerentola – Rossini [6’20"]
Award presentation [1’09"]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Carlo Rizzi
Ingrid Surgenor (accompanist)
1997: Guang Yang

‘Connais-tu la pays?’ from Mignon – Thomas [5’22"]
‘Nacht und Träume’ Op. 43, No. 2 – Schubert [4’05"]
‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’ Op. 7, No. 3 – Schubert [3’00"]
‘Nacqui all’affanno/Non piu mesta’ from La Cenerentola – Rossini [6’20"]
Award presentation [0’47"]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Carlo Rizzi
Ingrid Surgenor (accompanist)
1999: Anja Harteros

‘Temerari…Come scoglio’ from Cosi fan tutte – Mozart [5’56"]
‘Am Sonntag Morgen’ Op. 49, No. 1 – Brahms [1’22"]
‘Was will die einsame Träne?’ Op. 25, No.21 – Schumann [3’05"]
‘E Strano…sempre libera’ from La Traviata – Verdi [7’36"]
Award presentation [1’00"]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Carlo Rizzi
Wolfgang Kastorp (accompanist)
2001: Marius Brenciu

‘Cielo e mar!’ from La Gioconda – Ponchielli [5’01"]
‘Die nacht’ Op.10, No. 3 – R Strauss [3’04"]
‘Changeons propos’ from Sept Chansons de Clement Marot Op.5, No.6 – Enescu [2’23"]
‘Lensky’s Aria’ from Eugene Onegin – Tchaikovsky [7’12"]
Award presentation [3’07"]
BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jean-Yves Ossonce
Ingrid Surgenor (accompanist)
DVD 2:

Documentary: Twenty Years BBC Singer of the World in Cardiff [33’25"]
Lieder (Song) Prize Winners
1989: Bryn Terfel

In der fremde’ Liederkreis Op. 39 – Schumann [1’57"]
‘Intermezzo’ Liederkreis Op. 39 – Schumann [1’56"]
‘Die Stille’ Liederkreis Op. 39 – Schumann [1’36"]
‘Schöne Fremde’ Liederkreis Op. 39 – Schumann [1’19"]
Bonus: ‘Non piu andrai from The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart [1’57"]
Bonus: ‘The Dutchman’s Aria’ from The Flying Dutchman – Wagner [11’28"]
Award presentation [0’33"]
Malcolm Martineau (accompanist)
1991: Neal Davies

‘Did you hiccup, Natasha?’ – Rachmaninov [2’07"]
‘Letter to K. S. Stanislavski’ – Rachmaninov [3’43"]
‘Erlkönig’ – Schubert [1’24"]
Award presentation [1’01"]
Ingrid Surgenor (accompanist)
1993: Paul Whelan

‘Am Bach im Frühling’ D361 – Schubert [1’52"]
Bonus: ‘Hai gia vinta la causa’ from The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart [1’55"]
Award presentation [0’39"]
Ingrid Surgenor (accompanist)
1995: Kirsi Tiihonen

‘Wehe, so willst du mich wieder’ Op. 32, No. 5 – Brahms [1’57"]
‘Es traümte mir’ Op. 57, No. 3 – Brahms [3’33"]
‘Vesnie Vodys’ (‘Spring Waters’) from Twelve Songs – Rachmaninov [2’28"]
Award presentation [0’42"]
Satu Salminen (accompanist)
1997: Christopher Maltman

‘Ständchen’ from Schwanengesang – Schubert [3’47"]
‘Winter Evening’ Op. 13, No. 1 – Medtner [3’10"]
Award presentation [[1’10"]
Phillip Thomas (accompanist)
1999: Dea-San No

‘Oh! Mountain’ – Dong-Soo Shin [4’29"]
‘Nebbie’ – Respighi [1’22"]
Award presentation [1’09"]
Ingrid Surgenor (accompanist)
2001: Marius Brenciu

In der fremde’ Liederkreis Op. 39 – Schumann [2’02"]
‘Intermezzo’ Liederkreis Op. 39 – Schumann [1’45"]
‘Waldesgesprach’ – Schumann [2’07"]
‘Die nacht’ Op.10, No. 3 – R Strauss [3’04"]
‘Changeons propos’ from Sept Chansons de Clement Marot Op.5, No.6 – Enescu [2’23"]
Award presentation [3’07"]
Ingrid Surgenor (accompanist)
The Battle of the Baritones [3’14"]
Filmed in St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, Wales
PAL All Regions
16/9 Anamorphic and 4/3 (Archive material)
BBC Opus Arte OA 0880 D [170’00" + 90’00"]

At the risk of being pedantic, the title given to this pair of DVDs is a little misleading. It celebrates the first twenty years of this premier singing competition but, so far as I am aware, all the competitions recalled here took place under the original (and much less awkward) title "Cardiff Singer of the World". The BBC has been an extraordinarily generous supporter of the competition right from the start but I do wish they’d left well enough alone and hadn’t insisted on changing the title.

There was another change for the 2003 competition, just concluded, and it was also a change that I regret. For the first time the Lieder Prize, established in 1989, was hived off into a separate competition, taking place in a separate venue (and renamed the Song Prize). Cogent arguments have been put forward in support of this change and these arguments have some merit. However, if a singer is to be given a title including the words "Singer of the World" should he or she not have to distinguish him- or herself in all forms of singing? In fact, so far as I can recall none of the finalists this year sang anything but operatic arias on the last night of competition. What about oratorio? Previous finals had more variety in that some, though not all, finalists included some lieder in their recital. If this trend persists the organisers might just as well entitle the main contest "Opera Singer of the World."

However, that’s a debating point for the future. What we have here is a celebration of a wonderful competition which has helped to launch or advance some remarkable careers. (As was the case in 2003, over the years several of the contestants came to Cardiff not needing to launch their careers for they were already well established in the profession. The fact that there can be a great disparity of experience between contestants is another bone of contention about this competition.)

The documentary on Disc two is extremely interesting for it charts the story of the competition right from the start and draws on the recollections of several people who played important roles in its genesis. Thus we hear from Brian MacMaster, now Director of the Edinburgh International Festival but, back in the early 1980s, the head of Welsh National Opera, a company whose support for the competition has been as crucial as that of the BBC. His reminiscences are most interesting, as are those of Mervyn Williams, the retired Head of Music, BBC Wales, who first had the idea for the competition to coincide with the opening of the splendid new St David’s Hall in Cardiff. Williams tells us that on the opening night they had to entice the audience by advertising the fact that the new hall had air conditioning. By the end of the first competition word had got round and the hall was packed! There are other little snippets such as the fact that Dmitri Hvorostovsky was obliged to borrow money for the tails he wore for the competition and that his great rival that year, Bryn Terfel, had never previously sung with an orchestra.

The first disc gives us excerpts from the performances in the finals by each winner of the first ten competitions. Naturally, there’s much fine singing to enjoy and everyone will have his or her own favourites. For me highlights include the very first winner, Karita Mattila, imperious as Donna Anna and giving a marvellous performance of the Weber aria. Inger Dam-Jensen’s Handel is a delight too – and how good to find a finalist venturing into oratorio! Another most engaging performer is Katarina Karnéus whose choice of programme is easily the most enterprising. Her Copland is beautifully done, especially ‘Heart, we will forget him’ of which she gives an exquisite account.

However, the star of the show has to be Dmitri Hvorostovsky. I well remember watching that thrilling final on television and thinking at the time that Bryn Terfel had probably just shaded the contest on the night. Seeing and hearing Hvorostovsky’s exceptional performances again I now believe the jury got it right. He is an intense and brooding presence, magnificent in Tchaikovsky and riveting in Verdi. His two arias from Don Carlos are simply stupendous. 1989 was a vintage year for the competition (Hillevi Martinpelto and Monica Groop were among the runners up!) but on the evidence of what we see and hear on this DVD Hvorostovsky was a worthy winner.

On the second disc, as well as the documentary, we can sample excerpts from the performances of the Lieder Prize winners, starting with Bryn Terfel, the winner of the inaugural prize in 1989. Terfel sings four songs from Liederkreis and does them very well. At this early stage in his career he avoids the exaggerations which, in his zeal for expression, have crept into his singing in recent times – to the detriment of his performances, I believe. There’s no shortage of expression here but it’s more in proportion, better controlled. We are also treated to two orchestral items from the final. In both these arias he acts with his face (the eyes especially) to excellent effect. His powerful account of the Dutchman’s aria amply demonstrates that Dmitri Hvorostovsky was not the only one turning in exceptionally intense performances on that memorable evening.

There are one or two oddities in this selection of lieder excerpts. In particular I’m not sure why we only see Paul Whelan singing one song but then get a snippet from his appearance in the final singing Mozart. It’s also slightly regrettable, I think, that two of the items sung by Marius Brenciu are duplicated on both discs. (Brenciu has the distinction of being the only singer to win both prizes, an achievement unlikely to be matched, I assume, since the competitions have now been split.) From the timings given in the track listings it may appear that only part of Neal Davies’ account of Erlkönig has been included but I’m happy to say the performance is complete – and a very fine, involving one it is too.

The presentation of these DVDs is very good. Every piece of music is separately tracked and the booklet includes a full track listing, thus making it easy to play just isolated items. There are biographies of all the artists. No written note about the competition is provided but none is needed since the film documentary amply fills that function. The documentary has subtitles in French, German and Spanish. There are English subtitles for all the vocal items from 1989 onwards. We also see each winner being presented with his or her prize. When I saw this on the track listings I thought this might be excessive but it’s nice to see each winner’s moment of joy and the presentations forma a nice, natural punctuation between each recital.

In its twenty year history the Cardiff Singer of the World competition has established itself in the forefront of such contests. As such it will surely provide a major boost to the career of the eleventh winner, the Finnish baritone, Tommi Hakala who won the 2003 competition just a few weeks ago (and to that of Irish soprano, Ailish Tynan, the winner of the Song Prize). Musical competitions are frowned on in some quarters but it would be a cold heart that did not rejoice in the successes of the singers whose achievements are marked here. This pair of DVDs is a splendid celebration of a major competition and is also a hugely enjoyable compilation of fine singing. I warmly recommend it.

John Quinn



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