Uneven singing at lieder festival



The Sing Song Club

Victoria Theatre Dance Studio

Last Saturday and Sunday

There was very little genuine lieder and none of the songs featured in these two short concerts was intended for voice and piano. Instead, all involved a varied assortment of string and wind instruments to accompany the three singers.

With such a lot of rarely heard and unusual repertory to get through, it often felt that the Sing Song Club had not really had time to prepare everything adequately.

The fact that only one of the singers risked occasional eye contact with the audience seemed to reinforce the pervasive air of un-preparedness.

That singer was soprano Cherylene Liew. In Stravinsky’s Pastorale, which opened Saturday’s concert, her voice was too closed up to project above the supporting wind ensemble.

Balance was better with hornist Alan Kartik in Richard Strauss’ rarely heard Alphorn, but neither of them seemed really to know where the song was going.

There was an obvious air of unfamiliarity about her duet with clarinettist David Zechariah Kwek, but James MacMillan’s haunting setting of The Blacksmith and their joint efforts at conveying the characteristic Irish Cut at least gave this performance a pleasing individuality.

Liew was clearly in her element with Zechariah Goh’s Malay folksong settings with their delicate violin, cello and piano accompaniments in Sunday’s concert.

Relieved of the burden of carrying all the song accompaniments on his shoulders, pianist Shane Thio nevertheless was the saviour of Lebanese composer Naji Hakim’s gorgeous Noels, where neither tenor Adrian Poon nor baritone Daniel Fong seemed at all in the right groove either musically or linguistically.

Fong was at his dramatic best in Liong Kit Yeng’s Song Of Gaixia, in which Thio maniacally swayed between hitting a suspended cymbal and thumping the piano, while violinist Karen Tan added a rather ineffectual descant.

But while Fong produced a fine warm and mellow tone for two Brahms songs, his instrumental support – Jeremy Chiew’s viola – seemed to be on very shaky ground.

Tenor Poon graced Saturday’s concert with just one song, Britten’s third Canticle. With Thio and Kartik very much on board in this trio of equals, Poon proved himself to be eloquent, clear and quite convincing.

He was less sure of himself in Ravel’s Chansons Madecasses on Sunday, where his unidiomatic French and Wong Xuan’s colourless flute were only partly rescued by Thio’s masterly pianism and Lin Juan’s eloquent cello.

This mini-festival ended with a world premiere in which all three singers were involved along with Lin and Thio. Liong’s My Pen was a harmless piece of musical effect, which sounded like the theme music for a television series set in the 1920s, but it certainly got the most assured performance of the whole festival.

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