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The Song Prize Final

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Cardiff Singer Cardiff Singer | 10:43 UK time, Saturday, 13 June 2009

Friday night saw the St David's Hall stage strangely empty - except for the gleaming grand piano, which would be supporting the singers in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize final.

There had been a dramatic development on Friday morning. The Croatian baritone, Tomislav Lučić, who had been due to sing first in the final, had to withdraw as he was unwell. Eri Nakamura from Japan stepped in at the last moment, and her accompanist, Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artists' Programme director, David Gowland, had to locate his tailsuit and rush back to Cardiff from London.

The rules allow for the singers' programmes to repeat material from their preliminary round in the final, except that the final programme has to include at least one different piece. However, Eri's programme was completely different from the one she had chosen for Recital Four on Tuesday so getting into the 'zone' for the Song Prize final would have been quite a big task. But Eri is used to last minute changes - recently she was covering Anna Netrebko at the Royal Opera House and had to go on at short notice when Netrebko was indisposed.

Eri is also preparing for Sunday's main prize final, so altogether it is turning out to be a particularly busy couple of days for her.

Also taking part in both finals are Czech bass Jan Martiník and Ukrainian counter-tenor Yuriy Mynenko. Yuriy was next on after Eri, and he sang a very wide-ranging programme. His seven items were by six composers, ranging from the 17th century opera composer Cesti through to the 1935 popular song Non ti scordar di me, written by De Curtis for Gigli. Along the way, he sang Russian, Polish and Ukrainian as well as Italian. Just before singing his last item, Yuriy had a little discussion with his accompanist, Tamara Panska - maybe about the tempo? Who knows?

Baritone Javier Arrey performed third. Unusually for a South American, he seems to favour East European repertoire, and has included Dvořák's Biblical Songs in all three of his programmes, with the first five of the song cycle in this recital. Greatly contrasting with the Dvořák were his Ravel chanson and Schubert's Erlkönig, the only singer to offer this piece which has so often featured in the Song Prize in previous years.

The first part of Czech bass Jan Martiník's programme followed a theme of death: a bloodthirsty warrior, lovers in a cemetery and skeletons at Halloween featured in his three Saint-Saëns numbers. The remaining three songs, by Schumann and Schubert, reflected the more usual themes of love and loss found in Lieder.

Last to sing was soprano Natalya Romaniw from Wales. Her programme, of six items by six composers and in five languages, also covered a huge range of styles and emotions. Seductive in Purcell, pensive in Brahms, flirtatious in Delibes, sorrowful in Rakhmaninov, playful in a nursery rhyme by Britten and nostalgic in a beautiful Welsh song, Mae hiraeth yn y môr - the first time the Welsh languages has featured in the competition.

Read the full programme details of all the music performed in the Song Prize final.

The jury spent some time deliberating before declaring the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize winner to be Jan Martiník. He was clearly delighted and moved - but there was no time to celebrate - he must start preparing in earnest for Sunday's final.

If you weren't able to be there, listen to BBC Radio 3 tonight at 8.15pm, or BBC Radio Cymru tomorrow at 2pm. Extended highlights will be shown on BBC Four on Friday 19 June at 7.30pm.

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