THE COLOUR PALETTE OF MY LIFE
Khor Ai Ming Vocal Recital
Esplanade Recital Studio
1 November 2014)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 November 2014 with the title "Soprano turns yesterday's pop tunes into art songs".
Celebrated as a choir conductor and vocal coach, Malaysia-born soprano Khor Ai Ming continues to develop as a solo recitalist in her annual recitals, which showcase a wide swathe of repertoire. There are other sopranos who can boast of more powerful lungs or flashier techniques but few are blessed with Khor’s versatility. After all, who is equally at home singing Chinese and Malay songs, Western classical standards and modern works such as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire?
This two-hour long recital, performed without a break, showcased some 20 songs in a totally informal setting. Far from being a serious and staid affair, she chatted and bantered with her audience like a show-and-tell session, where the listeners were privy to her life story.
The first sentences of Harold Arlen’s Over The Rainbow were sung without accompaniment, a very difficult proposition given how exposed the lines were, but she did so fearlessly and without wavering. Sebastian Ho’s guitar accompaniment then emerged, providing a jazzy spin to the song.
Those impressed by Khor’s idiomatic grasp of Malay in P.Ramlee’s Getaran Jiwa and Jimmy Boyle’s Peteri Putera (in arrangements by Juliette Lai) will have learnt that she learnt Bahasa
Malaysia as a first language in school while
growing up in Kota Baru. Her father listened to Chinese pop records while her
mother sang to raise funds to buy her school’s first piano. Those memories were
relived in songs like Mo Ran’s Bu Liao
Qing and Mai Tang Ge (Selling Sweets), also performed with
much flair and allure.
Western classical repertoire was picked up in
Singapore, represented by three Italian aria
antiche, accompanied by pianist Bertrand Lee. Giordani’s Caro Mio Ben was given a sleek and clean reading, while Cesti’s Intorno All’idol Mio revealed clear
enunciation and delicate nuances. In Paisiello’s Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento, florid embellishments were attempted in
its variations but not all were pulled off with the greatest of ease.
She also thanked
Singapore for presenting her with the greatest
gift of all, her husband the drummer Tamagoh, whose band of guitaring Ho and
bassist Tony Makarome provided an improvised interlude as she exited for a
change of costume. They also gave back-up for a sequence of jazzy songs by
William Walton, Betty Roe, Kurt Weill and Xavier Montsalvatge. The last
composer’s Canto Negro was an
uproarious dance-song in Catalan, with the slightest excuse for the band to jam
Chinese pop songs of yesteryear were now rendered like true art songs by Khor, and these represented the concert’s best moments. Only a stone cold heart would not be moved by her versions of Qian Shou, Shu Tian Shu or Ju Hua Tai (Chrysanthemum Pavilion) which was accompanied by Chinese brush painter Stephen Leong’s on-the-spot creation on a canvas. He was done by the end of the songs, a painting of a floral garden with added calligraphy.
The recital closed with Dick Lee’s Bunga Sayang and Harry Carroll’s I’m Always Chasing Rainbows (inspired by a Chopin melody), which roused a standing ovation. Khor Ai Ming’s next recital will be keenly awaited.
Photos by the kind permission of Khor Ai Ming.