The 6th Queen Elizabeth Competition of Belgium
Highlights- recorded 8 – 24 May 2008
1st Prize – Szabolcs Brickner (tenor)
2nd Prize – Isabelle Druet (mezzo soprano)
3rd Prize – Bernadetta Grabias (mezzo soprano)
4th Prize – Anna Kasyan (soprano)
5th Prize – Yury Haradzetski (tenor)
6th Prize – Gabrielle Philiponet (soprano)
Other Finalists: Elizabeth Bailey, Layla Claire, Tatiana Trenogina, Yoon Jung Nan – sopranos
QEC2008; 2 CDs; 145 mins
The 2008 competition in Brussels was for singers. Whilst this recording is drawn from the three public rounds, it does not provide a record of events in the sense that the listener can put him or herself into the place of the jury, making the same measured judgements as the number of singers is slowly refined.
What it does give is an overview of the very high standard of singing of the participants , showcasing the best of their contributions.
The first disc is devoted to the final round, where the singers have the luxury of singing with the Symphony Orchestra of La Monnaie under the baton of Kazushi Ono. A spread of dates is given for the recording session, so it seems likely that at least some of these performances were technically rehearsals, without the stress of the jury’s ultimate assessment. The second disc is drawn from the two earlier rounds, with piano accompaniment.
The notes indicate that the semi final included a compulsory song by the contemporary Belgian composer Wim Henderickx – a complex piece, which many singers may have struggled with, included as the final band on the recording. Otherwise the permitted repertoire ranges pretty freely through opera, oratorio, lieder and 20th century music.
In practice, (perhaps not surprisingly for a competition staged in Brussels) works in the French language are prominent (completely eliminating Italian opera), art songs with orchestra are surprisingly popular, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov are both well represented, and there are some interesting rarities. On each CD the chosen items are skilfully arranged to form pleasing concerts – in fact it is very easy to sit back and enjoy the music forgetting that it represents a competition.
The chosen winner was the Hungarian tenor Szabolcs Brickner, a decision that seems hard to endorse from the extracts on the CDs. Whilst his lieder performances are reasonably polished he seems seriously challenged by the top notes in Meyerbeer’s O, paradis.
In my estimation, the outstanding singer is the second prizewinner, Isabelle Druet, a French mezzo-soprano who seems equally assured in everything she tackles, from Carmen to the difficult compulsory song. Her account of Duparc’s Au pays ou se fait la guerre (in the orchestral version) is absolutely outstanding! See her sing Mahler on YouTube [Editor]
I would also rate the other French singer, soprano Gabrielle Philiponet (awarded 6th prize by the jury) very highly for her sparkling account of the coloratura aria from Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tiresias. Third prizewinner, Polish mezzo Bernadetta Grabias distinguishes herself with her choice of repertoire: Tchaikovsky’s Orleanskaya Dyeva, Mozart’s Abendempfindung and above all Stanislaw Niewiadomski’s Otworz Janku! – a composer and song entirely new to me, but which I’ll be looking out to hear more. I must also mention the only baritone in the final, Changhan Lim represented by a single excerpt from Lulu with piano accompaniment (Jeonghwar Hur) but performed with electrifying intensity.
Whether or not you choose to listen to these CDs with a marking pencil in hand, they will give you well over two hours of interest: my final verdict – I’m just going to relax and enjoy them!