Friday, 13 December 2013

PAGDIRIWANG / SYC Ensemble Singers / Review

SYC Ensemble Singers
Esplanade Concert Hall
Wednesday (11 December 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 December 2013 with the title "Celebrating Christmas, the Filipino way".

Pagdiriwang is the Tagalog word for celebration. This concert by the SYC Ensemble Singers helmed by veteran Filipino choral conductor Jonathan Velasco (left) was exactly that, espressed in the manner only Pinoys know how – with mellifluous song, unfettered joy and gusto.

Every work performed, from European traditions, Afro-American spiritual to songs of the Philippines, was related to the Christmas season, but not many were familiar. However the excellent selections, clever juxtapositions of contrasted pairings, prefaced by well-presented quips in place of programme notes, made the 140-minute long concert seem a breeze.

A Bruckner motet and Praetorius’s Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming seemed traditional fare, except that Jan Sandstrom’s arrangement of the latter was a study of stillness and pristine pianissimo. A semi-chorus of eight sang words of the German hymn, while a larger group forming an extended arc intoned a shimmering accompaniment that exploited the hall’s reverberant qualities to perfection.

A younger and larger group of singers forming the Atelier Choir, which had worked intensively with Velasco for a week, contributed four songs. These included Arnel De Pano’s Gloria and Ryan Cayabyab’s Memorare, works in Tagalog and Latin respectively, varying between joyous exuberance and quiet contemplation.

The two choirs combined to deliver Cayabyab’s (above) carol-cum-lovesong Paskong Walang Hanggan, the gist of which is “every day with you is Christmas without end”. The anthem was highly melodious without being cloying, reaching a passionate climax that the 90 voices effortlessly mustered. The performance was dedicated to the ten million Filipinos celebrating Christmas outside their home country.

For the Singapore Youth Choir’s 50th anniversary next year, Nativitas by John Pamintuan (left) was the first commissioned work to be performed. Like the earlier choruses, this was another feast of agreeable harmonies, beginning with pastoral serenity and then scaling lofty reaches of vocal rapture. The same composer’s Maghimaya Ka Maria (Hail Mary) was chant-like, with a pervasive aura of soothing reassurance.    

Speaking of feasts, De Pano’s Noche Buena delighted in the Christmas banquet table, of treats like lechon (roast pork), bulaloo (beef marrow stew), adobo and fried chicken. The last of which is properly pronounced as “chee-ken”, according to the choir’s sole Filipino singer John Rae Cortes.

To this was added Cayabyab’s upbeat Kumukutikutitap (Twinkling), the onomatopoeic word for the brightly lit stars that hang off Christmas trees. Cayabyab’s arrangement of A Christmas Carol from the movie Scrooge closed the concert on a high, with two further Cayabyab encores to rouse a standing ovation.  

Photograph of concert by Kong Chong Yew.

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