Barbara Hannigan Presents New Singers


THE CALL / SCHUBERT: Fischerweise.6 Im Frühling.1 SCHUMANN: Mein schöner Stern.4 Aufträge.2 BRAHMS: An eine Äolscharfe.6 FAURÉ: Le papillon et la fleur.5 Notre amour.5 DEBUSSY: La flûte de Pan.2 C’est extase.1 HAHN: L’heure exquise.3 POULENC: Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon.4 M. WILLIAMS: Gwynfyd.3 HOWELLS: King David.2 VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: The Call.6 Silent Noon.3 BRITTEN: The Choirmaster’s Burial.4 The Last Rose of Summer.1 Early One Morning.2 GURNEY: Sleep.5 RACHMANINOV: In the Silent Night 5 / 1Madison Nonoa, sop; 2Martha Jones, 3Angharad Lyddon, mezzo; 4Laurence Kilsby, ten; 5Alex Otterburn, 6Dominic Sedgwick, bar; Malcolm Martineau, pno / Stone Records 5060192781076

Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan, a staunch champion of modern music, is also one of the few established singers who goes out of her way to try to discover great new, young vocal talent, as can be seen in her video of auditioning singers, rehearsing them and performing Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. This particular recording features six singers inspired and supported by MOMENTUM: Our Future Now, an initiative she created to help young singers whose careers ground to a halt due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. MOMENTUM lets young singers share the stage with established artists.

The specific album, however, was the idea of leading accompanist Malcolm Martineau who invited six of these young singers to record an album of songs, each of them choosing pieces with which they felt a personal connection.

I’d say that they already had two legs up in this project, first by being chosen by Hannigan and second by being invited and accompanied by Martineau, whose skills in that field are beyond question. I think one thing that surprised me was what a dark, rich voice baritone Dominic Sedgwick, the first singer up in this recital, had. He almost sounds like a junior Bryn Tefel. Soprano Madison Nonoa has one of those  bright, crystalline voices with an attractive flicker-vibrato…and, like Sedgwick, she has superb diction. (This is one thing, aside from vocal quality, that Hannigan insists on in her singers.)

Tenor Laurence Kilsby, singing Schumann’s Mein schöner Stern, has a nice, high lyric voice, but not one as interesting or individual sounding as the previous two singers. No mistake that he’s good and can sing, but it’s not a voice with much range of color or expression. I’d rate him a C+ or B- at best. (Yes, I’ve acted as a judge in vocal competitions in my younger, abler years.) Happily, Sedgwick returns immediately after this for a great version of Brahms’ An eint Äolscharfe.

Next up is mezzo Martha Jones singing Schumann’s Aufträge. She has a nice-sounding voice, not highly individual of timbre, and also a quick vibrato, but she really communicates. Our other baritone, Alex Otterburn, makes his first appearance singing Fauré’s Le papillon et la fleur. He has what I would describe as a “flat” timbre, not meaning that he sings off-key but that his sound is of one color; but it’s a very interesting sound, very much like a French baritone, and he sings with great interest in the words. Martha Jones, again highly communicative, returns for Debussy’s La flûte de Pan.

Oddly, Reynaldo Hahn’s famous L’heure exquise, generally sung by baritones, is the selection of our other mezzo, Angharad Lyddon. Like most Welsh singers, she has an excellent voice. (I really do think that, except for po’ faced Charlotte “Boom Boom” Church, everyone in Wales can sing well.) Nonoa then returns to sing Debussy’s C’est l’extase, and does so exquisitely (save for one pinched high note).

Kilsby returns for the two Poulenc songs, C and Fêtes galante, and oddly enough she shows more interpretation in these than he did in the Schumann song—and his voice also sounds just a bit fuller here. Otterburn sings Fauré’s Notre amour but, ironically, sounds a bit unsteady here. Lyddon also sounds unsteady, almost with a wobble, in Meirion Williams’ Romantic song Gwynfyd. Fortunately, Martha Jones returns to sing another oddity, Herbert Howells’ King David, and she is again superb. Wonderful Dominic Sedgwick comes back to sing a wonderfully rich, yet tender, rendition of Vaughan Williams’ The Call, and Lyddon sounds somewhat less vibrant in the same composer’s Silent Noon.

Of the remaining songs, I was most impressed by Nonoa’s exquisite singing of Britten’s Last Rose of Summer and Sedgwick’s interpretation of Rachmaninov’s In the Silent Night,  but Kilsby did a very nice job on The Choirmaster’s Burial. All in all, a fine showcase for these young singers.

Sadly, the artist bios all concentrate on their academic credentials and whatever prizes they’ve won or fellowships they belong to. Who gives a flying fork? Either you can sing well or you can’t, and it doesn’t matter how many scholarships or prizes you’ve won. I’ve heard a lot of singers who won prizes but could barely sing. Open your mouth and show me what ya got!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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