September 5th, Day 6 of the ARD International Music Competition. After speaking with Ha Young Jung who did her best to conceal her disappointment—with herself, not the jury, I tracked down Emmanuel Ceysson who in turn tried hard (succeeding charmingly) to coat his brimming confidence with some humility. After that I caught the only American participating in the violin competition, Lily Francis, who played Bach’s a-minor Sonata—and much to my delight played it much more coherently than I had heard from the (only seven) other witnessed violinists. Her Tzigane had moments, but not many. Happily, it was enough to advance.
I moved on to hear the afternoon session of the first day of the voice’s second round—hearing five singers of which, as it turned out, none advanced. Soprano Siranush Gasparyan (Armenia) rejoiced greatly in Handel, if with a hesitant top, average breath control, a voice that didn’t free itself from somewhere underneath her chin, and a mediocre (though her own) accompanist. Then again she has power for two, a very rich, very low register (especially in the successfully sung Rachmaninoff song “Son”). Via an uneasy “Casta Diva” (Bellini, Norma) and a loud “Tu che di le vanità” (Verdi, Don Carlos) she arrived at Hugo Wolf’s “Mignon” with successful mezzo-lows, sung still in her dramatic voice but a little scaled back for the Lied. Would have killed Schubert, but Wolf survived in garbled pronunciation.
Katharina Persicke impressed greatly in her first round, but didn’t quite live up to it in the second. The accompanist’s soft pianism for “Er hat uns allen Wohl getant” from Bach’s Matthew Passion wasn’t well aligned with her strident, rather old-fashioned Bach, mangled by powerful indifference. The crescendos out of silence were well intentioned, but not as effective as they should have been. There was little adjustment from the Bach to one of Dvořák’s op.83 Love Songs and Richard Strauss’ Wiegenlied, which worked terrifically especially in Strauss and shows that the same approach to everything will eventually yield proper results. (Like the broken clock being correct twice a day…) The indifference continued through Mozart’s “Quando avran fine omai” from Idomeneo to superficial and lackluster effect before Brahms (“Von Ewiger Liebe”, slightly rushed) and Poulenc (“Violon”) were improvements again.
I’m still not quite sure what my colleague—he’s too professional to be distracted by her figure that could set a stage on fire—hears in Aleksandra Kubas; In Richard Strauss’ “Staendchen” I heard individual phrases and notes, but not the whole. She has a clarion voice, but pushed it through Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Verdi with such uniformity as to suggest a vocal one-trick pony. Rachmaninoff’s rewarding “Zdes horoso” (“Nice, here!”) was beautiful and her last note in “E strano! Sempre libera” spot on, but she, too, will have to content herself with having reached the second round.
Neither did Shan Wu (China) and Kanako Sakaue (Japan) make the cut; the former like a canary on steroids in Schubert (with an appeal of its own), and very find in Stravinsky’s “No word from Tom” (The Rake’s Progress). But neither in Bach nor Bellini—and only to some extent in Liszt’s “Freudvoll and leidvoll”—could she score big points. Projection, especially of lower notes, was a problem for Kanako Sakaue, her Brahms (“Verzagen”) was boring, her Schubert (“Gretchens Bitte”) flat, Copland’s “The world feels dusty” perfectly enjoyable.