Monday, 19 July 2010

SONGS OF TRAVEL / Vocal Recital by Daniel Fong / Review


Daniel Fong, Baritone

with Shane Thio, Piano

Young Musicians Society

Saturday (17 July 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 July 2010.

The English art song has been inextricably linked with the land’s pastoral tradition, none better epitomised by the figure of Ralph Vaughan Williams. This was the focus of young Singaporean baritone Daniel Fong’s song recital, which provided an hour or so of simple pleasures.

A voice student at London’s Royal Academy of Music, Fong has a personable stage demeanor that readily draws the listener into his world. Once enraptured, he keeps one peeled by a pleasing tone that is robust, yet ringing brightly like a tenor in the higher registers.

For the nine Songs of Travel by Vaughan Williams (left), his musical journey portraying an itinerant who begins on a defiant high but ends in quiet resignation was a heart-rending one. While not quite reaching the same depths of desolation as Schubert’s Winterreise, this cycle nonetheless was a worthy showcase for Fong’s wide emotional range.

Youth and Love provided for a passionate outburst, contrasted with the dark introspection of In Dreams. A palpable world-weariness sets in Whither Must I Wander? before the “farewell to hope” (from words by Robert Louis Stevenson) in the final song that left little to the imagination. Fong and the ever-sensitive pianist Shane Thio (both artists below) held sway despite the numerous extra-musical distractions, including latecomers, din from the Waterloo Street cultural neighbourhood and distant pre-National Day Parade fireworks.

A short second half yielded five songs, including two Shakespearean settings by Gerald Finzi. From the cycle Let Us Garlands Bring, Come Away, Death (Twelfth Night) was delivered with a touching melancholy, while Who is Sylvia? (Two Gentlemen of Verona) relived the same ebullience and humour as Schubert’s popular version.

Songs of love gained and lost went to the heart of the evening’s inspiration. Michael Head’s Limehouse Reach was an uncomplicated sea song, naïve in its sentiments, before closing with the brief but beautiful Roger Quilter Music, When Soft Voices Die. The single encore, O Waly, Waly (The Water is Wide) from Benjamin Britten’s folksong arrangements was Fong’s icing on the cake. More will be heard from this fine baritone in the years to come.