Monday, 20 September 2010

A Bridge of Silk: Asian A Cappella / The Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Review

The Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Lim Yau, Conductor
Esplanade Recital Studio
Saturday (18 September 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 September 2010.

When The Philharmonic Chamber Choir (TPCC) was formed in the mid-1990s, one of its missions was to explore the virgin world of Asian a cappella music. Every Asian culture has its own unique choral heritage, but for a Singaporean group with little local tradition to speak of, it was a novel direction to take.
And what a harvest it has reaped to judge by the quality this 35-member group has achieved. Much effort had been taken to research each work, including employing eight native coaches for seven spoken languages and dialects, from Balinese to Mongolian. The high quality of annotations and translations also spelt of this conviction.

It was the music that ultimately impressed. As expected, some pieces played on onomatopoeic sound effects, beginning with the traditional Balinese Janger, where the singers simulated gamelan orchestras and the Vietnamese folksong Hat Cheo Thuyen, replicating the sound of oars rowing a boat.
There were laughs aplenty for the Taiwanese (specifically Yilan) folksong Diu Diu Dang Ah, where railway noises and repetition of the Minnanese word for train “Huay Chia” jostled for attention. A lot of it sounded like Hokkien, and conductor Lim Yau went on to personally congratulate his handful of Ang Mohs (Westerners) in the choir for taking the trouble.

On a more lyrical side, Filipino Nitoy Gonzales’ love-song Usahay (Sometimes) luxuriated in lovely sentimental harmonies. The only song in English was from Singapore (where else?), with Bernard Tan’s setting of Lee Tzu Pheng’s Dreamescape II a euphonious nod to the English choral tradition.

There were three very different songs by the Japanese icon Toru Takemitsu (left). An arrangement of the familiar favourite Sakura dressed in unusual harmonies contrasted with the more commercial pop idiom of A Song of Circles and Triangles, but it was the contemplative All That The Man Left Behind When He Died that had the poignancy to move one to tears.

Two songs from the Korean Geonyong Lee completed a kaleidoscopic picture of the choir’s abilities. The four varied Songs Without Words exhibited a strong technical facility and Memilmuk Saryeo (Buckwheat Jelly for Sale) incorporating hawkers’ calls and percussion instruments closed with a lonesome tofu-seller’s chant from the wonderfully evocative bass Nicholas Loh.

Do not miss this class act’s next concert, whatever it may be singing.

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