Friday, 1 November 2013

OF FLOWERS, BIRDS & SONGS / Khor Ai Ming Vocal Recital / Review

Khor Ai Ming Vocal Recital
Esplanade Recital Studio
Wednesday (30 October 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 October 2013 with the title "Khor's harmonious serenade to nature".

This reviewer has had the pleasure and privilege of being acquainted with Khor Ai Ming for about twenty years, when she was a young soprano in the Singapore Symphony Chorus. She has since risen to become chorus mistress of the Singapore Lyric Opera Children’s Choir and one of the nation’s most versatile and distinctive art song practitioners. That she gave the Singapore premiere of Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal melodrama Pierrot Lunaire in 2006 says quite a bit.

Her 80-minute long recital was a tribute to nature, birds and bees, inspired by the eco-garden cultivated by Khor and her husband Tamagoh in their second home in Johore. His photographs of nature were projected onto the back wall of the hall, as she sang three groups of songs with three visually stunning changes of costumes.

Adorning headgear that vaguely resembled a bird of paradise, her first six songs comfortably segued between Italian (Alessandro Scarlatti’s Violets), French (chansons by Ravel and Debussy), English (Matyas Seiber’s The Owl and the Pussycat) and German (Schoenberg’s Der Kranke Mond), sounding equally persuasive in all. As good voice teachers demand, her diction and articulation was spot on, and her always pleasant tone rose to a bright luminous ring in the upper registers.

She was sensitively accompanied by pianist Bertrand Lee for the songs with flautist Cheryl Lim making a cameo in the Schoenberg number. A Malay dancer accompanied by bassist Tony Makarome (also doubling on tabla) and drummer Tamagoh provided a spirited interlude before Khor emerged in an arresting gilded Malay wedding outfit.

The Malay songs Kuda Hitam (Black Horse) and Manuk Dadali (The Eagle), sung totally idiomatically with the requisite hip-swaying and sashaying, provided a hypnotic and visceral allure that bordered on inflaming passions. Makarome’s Malay Folksong Medley, including favourites like Burong Kakak Tua and Lenggang Kangkong, featured jazzy improvisations by pianist Mei Sheum.

Sheum’s arrangements of five Chinese songs greeted a further costume change, with Khor now in a cheongsam reminiscent of Shanghai chanteuses and temptresses. Another dancer, masked like some oriental phantom of the opera, joined in the fray as she crooned Mandarin oldies like the ubiquitous Yue Lai Xiang (Evening Fragrance), Chuan Ge (Boat Song), Ju Hua Tai (Chrysanthemum Terrace), Rose Rose I Love You, and Chen Li De Yue Liang (Moonlight in the City).

These songs, delivered with much showmanship and sincerity, clearly touched a harmonious chord with her audience, which was further rewarded with Khor’s encore of Only Love. Her annual recitals, of which this is the fifth, will be a keenly awaited fixture in the concert calendar.  

All photographs by courtesy of Khor Ai Ming and Tamagoh.

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