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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On singing in Cardiff, Isserlis playing Saint-Saëns and square Samson,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Did you hear the Cardiff Singer of the World 2005?
For me Andrew Roberts of England and Wendy Dawn Thompson of New Zealand were the stars. That Chilean tenor did nothing for me.

H U, Wales

Dear H,

Well, I know what you mean -- they were indeed both wonderful, but I wasn't upset that Nicole Cabell won, and I still also hold a candle for the South Korean Ha-Young Lee, not just because I was born in South Korea, but because I thought she had a wonderful combination of complete commitment, mature technique and beauty of tone that only Andrew Roberts and Nicole Cabell matched.

I think Roberts wasn't going to cop the big prize, having won the lieder prize: that doesn't often happen, as they want to spread the glory around a bit, and I thought Ha-Young Lee's commitment was just TOO MUCH for some people, yet what looked a bit over the top with the cameras peering down your nostrils would probably have been perfect from the upper circle. Given that she (very cruelly) didn't make the final, and that Andrew Roberts' exquisite phrasing and style had already received the lieder prize, I thought Nicole Cabell deserved to win. It certainly won't do her career any harm that she looks like a cross between a Spanish princess and a catwalk idol, but I don't think that's why she won. I think, as the admirable Mary King said in her commentary, that she was the most complete article on offer, the best overall package: her musical poise and power and beauty of voice (top to bottom) made up for her rather over-egged Mozart.

As for the Chilean tenor, I think someone told him, between his dire semi-final and rather good final, that a decent tenor tone is not enough: you have to look the audience in the eye and COMMUNICATE. With luck, he's still young enough to learn.

Finally, why on earth were all the rounds up to the final on BBC4??? Loads of the cellists I mentioned it to -- who would have loved to have watched -- can't get BBC4. What other international-level musical event can the UK boast that promotes musicians of equivalent style, maturity, and accomplishment !?? (None, is the answer.) The BBC ought to have its head examined (not for the first time). What a waste.


Ask Alice

I'm desperate to find out how to find the lyrics to 'Samson, cut your hair -- you want to be with it, but you're really a square, be guided by this golden rule, at your age man, you should play it cool...' and loads of other songs to do with Samson and Delilah, which I sang at ASL (American School in London) about 30 years ago. 'Clip, Clip, Clip went the scissors, and the hero's hair came tumbling down ...' I remember so many of the songs, but also have lots of blanks. Can you help? Have been trying to remember them to sing to my 6 and 4 year olds.

Bridgit Beynon

Dear Bridgit,

I can't but I'm sure someone can. I tried Googling, to no avail, but then, I bet you'd done that already ... My daughter (7) is mad about My Fair Lady, and can sing all Eliza's songs from memory. Funny that I've never even heard of a musical about Samson and Delilah before though.


Ask Alice

Have just bought Steven Isserlis playing various Saint-Saëns including first concerto and The Swan -- is it just the most sublime playing or what?

Marion Hitchcocks, cellist, Keston

Dear Marion,

Sublime is spot-on. I don't agree with those who denigrate Steven Isserlis for gut strings, simply because the audience has to listen harder. He coaxes colours out of them that nobody else gets, and that makes gut strings, at least on a cello that gorgeous, well worth the effort. I accompanied him in Oxford once, playing the (generally ignored) Saint-Saëns 'other' cello concerto, and, such was the textures he came up with, he almost (but not quite) convinced me it was worth the effort to get hold of a copy. (The whole work is a bit samey compared to the A minor, however, and not so singing somehow.)


Copyright © 1 July 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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