Somehow the Wigmore Hall atmosphere is always sympathatic during the annual Ferrier Awards, people come every year and there is friendly support for the singers. The date of the finals was 23 April and the winner was the South African baritone, Njubulo Madlala (28). His voice was the only one of the six contestants that sounded mature with all the registers balanced and he made a warm sound. His programme was chosen wisely to display what he could do best.
A Bellini aria was followed by Butterworth’s song on Bredon Hill, Schumann’s Lied Balsazar, a folksong from the kraal and a passionately warm aria from Leoncavallo’s Zaza (good idea to sing music that the judges might not be too familiar with). His musicianship was impeccable and he didn’t make the mistake that other contestants had made, of singing too loud, and he had ‘the gift to be simple’. He was a winner whose name is worthy to be placed alongside previous winners, who include some of the finest singers of recent times.
Madlala was awarded £10,000; the second prize, half that sum, went to Dubliner Sarah Power with a voice not quite mature but with enough purity and style to win through (though she should beware of a shrill edge to her tone, probably caused by nerves). Bellini again, a bit of Stravinsky’s Rake, R. Strauss and a delightful children’s song by Poulenc with the voice and piano in chattering unison. Anna Cordona her excellent pianist (she won the accompanist’s prize of £3000). I was sorry that the Australian baritone Duncan Rock did not win anything but a lot of sympathy from the audience; he has a good voice and dramatic sense, strong to the point of occasionally hectoring.
To complete the honours: the Song Prize of £4000 went to Manchester soprano Laurie Ashworth with her Strauss, Purcell, Jonathan Dove, Mozart and Je suis Titania from Mignon.
The judges included three eminent singers: Della Jones, Felicity Palmer and Sandy Oliver, pianist Roger Vignoles and administrator Gavin Henderson.