Saturday, 27 September 2014


Esplanade Recital Studio
Thursday (25 September 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 September 2014 with the title "Magical evening of great lieder music".

There appears to be an unusual efflorescence of song recitals and vocal events taking place over the coming week and a half. It seemed a pity that this excellent recital by Rebecca Chellappah, one of Singapore’s precious few mezzo-sopranos, had to coincide with the opening of the 4th Singapore Lieder Festival. Splitting a potential audience meant that only about 50 people were in attendance for this very engaging evening of art song.

Chellappah did not prioritise bringing out popular crowd-pleasing songs but instead worked on the intimate relationship of setting words to music. All of her repertoire choices were thoughtfully and lovingly made, each highlighting the elusive art that separate great songs from merely good ones. Not all of these are well-known, but she had what it took to make them sound convincing.

Erich Korngold’s Abschiedslieder (Songs of Farewell), sung in its original German, was coloured with the dark hues and Romantic sensibilities that unite these with the better known Mahler lieder. Far from being lugubrious, Chellappah lifted the four songs with an air of wonder above the bittersweet contemplation. The best known number Mond, so gehst du wieder auf (Moon, So You Rise Again) was sensitively sung, with Lim Yan’s accompanying piano providing a veil of opulent harmonies.   

Manuel de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs are familiar enough, but has anyone checked out the lyrics? From Chellappah’s facial expressions, one could tell which songs spelled regret, resignation, disgust or despair. Here she was partnered by her husband Billy Greenan on the guitar, which added a further dimension of authenticity.

The balance of the programme was accompanied by a piano trio, a rarity in itself. In Englishman Roger Quilter’s Three Pastoral Songs, the music was fairly straight-forward. The simple rusticity and folksong charm of it all was easy to bring out, even in Cherry Valley, which was lightly tinged with the impressionism of Debussy.

In the American songs cycles, the balance between voice and instruments was trickier. Chellapah had to rise above Siew Yi Li’s violin, Lin Juan’s cello and Lim Yan’s piano, as not all the scoring was texturally light or transparent. But when she did, the effect of the often poignant songs was close to magical.

Lori Laitman’s Daughters explored the relationships between mothers and daughters and the sense of loss engendered on departure or death. Stella Remembered with words by Karen Gershon was particularly moving, as a mother is willing to trade a truckload of photographs just to see her daughter turn around again. A Letter to My Daughter, a setting of Anne Ranasinghe’s poem, was so soothing that audible snoring from the back of the hall was heard at its conclusion.

In Jake Heggie’s Some Times of Day, the musical idioms of Americana stood out. It was jazzy and syncopated in The Minuet, a waltz-rhythm dominated the ironic song Simple, while a country feel pervaded The Best Time of Day. With all the serious stuff behind her, it was left for Chellappah to relax and luxuriate in this enchanting closing act. In many ways, this recital was a mini Lieder festival in itself.  

 Photographs by the kind permission of Mrs Greenan and friends.

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