Sunday 14 June 2009
Shcherbachenko lights the way - again
Yes, the Cardiff Singer of the World 2009 is Yekaterina* Shcherbachenko, shining with emotion in this very promptly-despatched photo by Brian Tarr. And it might seem excessive that this is the second time she's led here, too, but she's been rather a leitmotif of the week. You’ll know by now that she was my favourite because her Tchaikovsky Letter Scene in Round Two ended up being the most complete characterisation out of everything I saw: as I wrote then, she WAS Tatyana. But she didn’t, as I’d hoped, choose Prokofiev’s Natasha for the final: in fact she didn’t choose any of the Russian roles, in the diction of which she is so perfect, at all – only a Russian composer setting an English text, Stravinsky with Anne Trulove’s aria, a real gamble.
Yet she showed almost the same identification with the characters, seemed to warm to the public lovefest and gave a masterclass in the delivery of Liu’s ‘Signore, ascolta’ – I can’t recall seeing a performance of that aria which was as disciplined and varied as it was moving. Click to see a little slice of perfection back on the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World website.
Spot-on mezzodiva-commentator Susan Graham (great choice) pointed out that you could see Shcherbachenko bracing a little nervously for the top C at the end of ‘I go to him’, but she pulled it off in terms of dramatic expression. And as Mary King added, it's apt if there is a touch of anxiety in Anne’s determination. Yes, the language was a bit weird, as was the French for Gounod's Marguerite, but who cared when she communicated so much?
The runner-up? Yury Mynenko has a golden sound, the fast passages were more agile than I'd anticipated from the earlier ‘Parto, parto’ and it’s so good to hear a butch counter-tenor. Call me biased, but I'm still not sure how far can you go, and how much of the gamut you can run, in that rep.
Himmel, Tod und Wolkenbruch!** That mischievous doyenne La Cieca has unearthed a piece of filth, as she calls it - filthy not so much in the vocals as in the arrangement - in which Mynenko sings a (transposed) Queen of the Night aria 2 with throb-pop accompaniment (remember the RPO's 'Hooked on Classics'?). I'll link to it on our counter-tenor's audio page - just go down to the penultimate entry, where you can read 'Der Holle Rache' - in case you wish to correct it with some of Mynenko's more distinguished efforts.
By the way (22/6), several folk have asked why I didn't mention bass Jan Martinik as winner of the Song Prize - alas, I missed that final when it was broadcast and we were away in Switzerland when it was shown on BBC4. I'm sure the sometimes undue sensitivity he brought to the operatic rep (the Aleko-lite, for instance) would have suited Lieder better. So I look forward to hearing him in recital - and to his Filippo in, say, fifteen years' time.
Does it really matter who wins, though? How, for example, were the jury for the Tonys going to choose between Harriet Walter’s QE1 and Janet McTeer’s Mary Stuart (pictured below by Joan Marcus, courtesy of the super-efficient Boneau/Bryan-Brown Inc.) in the electrifying Donmar-in-New-York production of Schiller’s royal tussle?
Both were nominated for best actress; neither won, and since I haven’t seen the other ladies in their roles, I can’t say whether fairly or not. I do know that while McTeer’s Nora in A Doll’s House will remain one of my Top Theatre Performances of All Time – and it DID win a Tony several years back – she had a few mannerisms as Mary, at least in London, which might have inclined me to give the palm to Walter. Elizabeth in any case has a more difficult job winning sympathy at a late stage in the play.
Too often, we’re asked to compare incomparables, and never more so than in the Cardiff final. Each of the round winners seemed to me the only possible choice, and actually in terms of total communication, Shcherbachenko’s radiant and vulnerable trio of heroines clearly had the edge in the finale. But is it quite fair to judge between a 21-year old Italian tenor fresh from his studies (Giordano Luca, winner of the audience prize), who may not seem to grasp his own language very vividly but who has the tone and the money notes to be snapped up all over the world, and a Russian soprano of 32 with experience of singing Tatyana at the Bolshoy, the Vienna State Opera and in Paris? Well, it doesn’t matter: all five finalists have major careers assured where not already established. And Elina Garanca didn’t win several years back, but she’s one of the favoured few now.
More on awards (which makes me wince a bit, but at least I never had to sound off about the Classical Brits). I ought to have made a nod in the direction of my occasional master BBC Radio 3, winner of four ‘golds’ at the Sony Awards some time back. In terms of ‘UK Station of the Year’, yes, I know, it’s a question of rotating the honours – the fact that Classic FM won a few years back renders it pretty meaningless – but it does mean excellent publicity for a station that’s pulled out all the stops recently.
The ‘Music Special Award’ is rather more auspicious. I know my pal Stephen Johnson is over the moon that his Vaughan Williams journey ‘Valiant for Truth’ won over contenders such as Coldplay, and so he should be. Here he is on what might be a VW excursion but isn’t, at White Castle on the first stage of our Offa’s Dyke walk.
I’ll end with a couple of plugs before bowing out for a bit. The Discovering Music on Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony I recorded with David Robertson and the BBCSO finally goes out on BBC Radio 3 on 28 June, and adored Ruthie Addinall brings some of her paintings to the 12 Star Gallery for two weeks from 23 June, including this one.
*Sorry, BBC, again I insist on the 'y' being sounded. Who says 'Evtushenko' these days?
**The oath of the Acrobat in Berg's Lulu. In the ENO translation, it was rendered 'bugger, bugger, bugger it!', which resulted in an odd piece of censorship when I reviewed the Chandos set for R3's CD Review. I wanted to play Lulu's entrance in Act 2 Scene 2, but because this was morning air time, we had to come in a little later than I'd hoped and Robert Poulton's acrobatic curses went unheard...