I managed (thanks partly to half a dozen notes strategically placed around the living room) to remember to listen to the final four Lexus Song Quest semi-finalists on Concert FM tonight. I must say: bravi tutti. And that goes for the other eight as well, including the four I didn't hear. Everybody has sounded so good, and certainly there hasn't been a single moment of 'how in the world did he/she get to the semifinal?' I'm really quite impressed.
Now, to tonight's singers. Two I've heard before; the two I hadn't were Jamie Frater and Allison Cormack. Both sang very well indeed. Allison's 'Wie Melodien zieht es mir' was probably her best piece; but'Art Is Calling For Me' (a disaster in the wrong (Te Kanawa) hands) was nicely handled too, and came more or less complete with the appropriate 'vocal frills'. Jamie Frater also sounded best in his Brahms piece, as it happens (I forget the title, it was something something 'Wald' I think). The Stravinsky setting of 'The Owl and the Pussycat' I did not like at all. Nothing to do with Jamie's singing, which was admirable: but honestly, it was the musical equivalent of a "my five year old could do that" painting. His 'Votre toast' from Carmen was a little dry and plodding to my ears, but would have livened up considerably, I'm sure, with an orchestra and a bit of context.
We also heard from Stephen Chambers, Dunedin tenor and youngest semi-finalists, performing at his absolute best. 'Am Feierabend' from Die Schöne Müllerin was excellent, as was 'Wenn der Freude Thränen fliessen' from Die Entführung; however the piece which really took me by surprise (strangely enough) was 'Treefall' by Dorothea Franchi, a New Zealand composer. Stephen and I think one or two other singers performed this during last year's vocal competitions but I barely took any notice: 20th century New Zealand art song and I are generally not the best of friends. This time round, however, it was something a bit special and very very nicely done. Brilliantly selected programme, Stephen, and sounding fabulous. Well done.
However I am, after all, a soprano nut ('soprano snob' by some accounts) and I've saved the best for last. Anna Pierard. Quelle voix! Quelle femme! Some of the most gorgeous singing I've heard from all the semifinals, and definitely the classiest: there must be something (not that...) in the water in Amsterdam, where Anna's been studying. Anna was a finalist in the 2002 Song Quest - at that point she was a soprano. Now she's a mezzo and I have to say: excellent decision! Not that she wasn't lovely as a soprano; but as a mezzo she's a star. 'Oh la pitoyable aventure' from Ravel's L'heure espagnole is a pretty horrendous aria; I had to stop falling asleep to Magdalena Kozena's French Arias CD because that aria kept waking me up. But Anna handled it with aplomb. 'Près des remparts de Séville' was even better, and the Ross Harris song 'Inside the Rainbow Air' (written for her) was also lovely. International study clearly makes a very real difference: there was a sophistication and a sensitivity in all of Anna's singing which I haven't really heard - at least not to the same degree - in any of the other semi-finalists. And I would have loved to have seen her Ruggiero in Die Nieuw Opera Academie's Alcina. The girl has definitely got something!
Tomorrow's the big night: the announcement of the six finalists. I've already picked my six, but I'm not telling yet. I shall return tomorrow when all is revealed. Terribly exciting, isn't it?