Tuesday, 13 March 2012

LUMIERE: A FRENCH REVERIE / The Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Review

The Philharmonic Chamber Choir
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Saturday (10 March 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 12 March 2012 with the title "French light shines".

Quite predictably and lamentably, a small audience was witness to a concert of 20th century French a cappella choral music by Singapore’s finest choir led by the land’s pre-eminent choral conductor Lim Yau. A real pity as the 27-member group really takes the pains to research the music it sings, including employing foreign language coaches to strive for authenticity.

The concert hall at the School of the Arts (SOTA) is truly coming into its own as a venue for chamber and choral music. The sound is naturally reverberant within its capacious but quaintly intimate space with high ceilings, and the choir utilised this to great advantage. Details of pronunciation and subtleties of harmonies may be easily discerned, and for its first all-French programme, that was no mean feat.

Choir chairperson tenor Kerryn Chan played an amiable host, opening with a smattering of French and provided commentary in lieu of the customary programme notes. The choir warmed up with a trio of Poulenc chansons, hived from a group of seven songs for the sake of variety. Any hint of nerves was soon dispelled with Debussy’s Three Chansons of Charles D’Orleans, a work that has been in the choir’s repertoire since its early years.

In the madrigal-like second song Quant j’ai ouy le tabourin (When I Hear the Tambourine), alto Ng Sheh Feng’s plaint lovingly and confidently rose above the busily scurrying accompaniment. As solos went, there was little to match the beauty and purity of soprano Esther Lee’s contribution in Ravel’s Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis (Three Lovely Birds from Paradise) which pretty much stole the show.

When non-Frenchmen compose for settings in French, certain transformations takes place. The German Paul Hindemith’s Six Chansons based on Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry sound miles away from his usual terse and astringent style. The soft-grained lingering lyricism of Un Cygne (A Swan) and the cheery reports of Verger (Orchard) came like a gust of fresh air.

Similarly Dutchman Ton de Leeuw’s Priere (Prayer), using texts from the Quran, gradually ambled from a supplicant’s humility – punctuated by repeated calls of Signeur (Lord or Allah) – to an ecstatic vision of awe. This rarity, sung with the radiance suggested by the recital’s title Lumiere (Light), was alone worth the price of admission.

When it seemed that everyone had gotten into the swing of things, the hour-long concert regrettably had to end. The perfumed harmonies of three final chansons from Poulenc: the sublime Belle et Ressemblante (Lovely and Lifelike), prancing moves of Marie, and the bright sunshine of Luire (To Shine), gave reason for cheer, in anticipation of the Philharmonic Chamber Choir’s next concert.

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