C IS FOR CHILDREN CANTILLATING
The Sing Song Club
The Living Room @ The Arts House
This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 January 2013 with the title "C is for charming chants".
The Sing Song Club’s ambitious 26-part Alphabet Series of art song recitals has reached the letter C. Its 90-minute recital of 20th century song cycles inspired by the subject of childhood and extreme youth was attended by just 21 people, but that did not dampen the spirits of the performers on a dank, rainy evening.
The group’s leader, the youthful tenor Adrian Poon, had the honour of singing two song cycles. The first was Francis Poulenc’s Quatre Chansons pour Enfants, where he negotiated its tricky and rapidly articulated French with relative ease. The playful, ironic spirit of the personalities who inhabited these songs were well characterised, lyricism and wit being the hallmark of the French composer whose 50th death anniversary was being commemorated this year.
The extremely versatile Richard Rodney Bennett, who died just a few weeks ago, was also remembered with his Songs Before Sleep. These six very diverse shorts, contemporary and occasionally jazz-inflected, also found a sympathetic interpreter in Poon. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, began with the same words as the familiar version, but took on the style of a Broadway musical number.
Benjamin Britten, born exactly one century ago, had a lifelong affinity for children. His five songs in A Charm of Lullabies gave mezzo-soprano Anna Koor and pianist Shane Thio a share of dissonant moments, the melodic line often at odds with the thorny piano writing. No fault of the performers, such was Britten’s sense of aesthetics which juxtaposed A Charm with its strident declamations “Quiet! Sleep!” that would wake the dead, with the truly soothing The Nurse’s Song, which Koor delivered as well as a mother could.
The only familiar song cycle was Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), sung by the veteran baritone William Lim. Here is a voice that has matured over the years, such that the reflections on mortality rang out with a world-weary yet burnished poignancy that sounded heartfelt and sincere. Through the tempest of In diesem Wetter (In This Weather), Lim easily overcame the onslaught from the keyboard accompaniment.
Lim closed the evening with Singaporean Zechariah Goh Toh Chai’s Where Are You, My Little Ones?, a lament composed on the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami tragedy. The words “Did you call my name? Did you say goodbye?”, spoken rather than sung, hung on like a pall through the song’s clear and unequivocal message. It was a sober and contemplative end to a concert that should have been attended by far more music-lovers.