Chamber @ The Arts House
2 July 2016)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 July 2016 with the title "Voices with heart".
One of the best settings to make music and real friends is in a choir. Under the banner of corporate artistic endeavour, people from disparate cultures and walks of life can find a common ground for which musical expression becomes genuine and unforced. Such a group is the a cappella choir Vox Camerata, whose members range from young adult voices to to the odd bona fide opera singer.
Its 60-minute recital programme, led by young choral conductor Shahril Salleh and his even younger assistant Jolene Khoo, was compact, varied and ambitious. It had the comforting unifying theme of childhood and home, with their associate sub-themes of nostalgia and longing. Additional context with poetry readings and story-telling was provided by the concert's host Lo Yen Nee.
The concert opened with an
fisherman's song Who Can Sail Without The Wind?, in
Swedish and arranged by Robert Sund, which was poignant with a gentle lilt. The
21 singers, 14 women and 7 men, responded with a general warmth of tone. This took on a more serious vibe in William
Byrd's I Will Not Leave You Orphans,
sung in Latin, with its reassuring words capped with a chorus of
hallelujahs. Åland Islands
Folksongs in transcription were a mainstay of the programme, none better demonstrated in Shahril's take on the Japanese children's song Aka Tombo (Red Dragonfly) and Floris van Vugt's South African lullaby Thula Baba, Thula Sana. The latter had the luxury of its infectious rhythms being tapped out by guest percussionist Marcus Teo on the box-shaped cajon.
Two original songs by Shahril featured only ladies' voices. Dua Tiga Kuching Berlari (Two Three Cats Are Running) was a Malay song accompanied by mewing in the manner of Rossini's famous Cat Duet. Seasons Change, after a Sandra Milligan poem, featured variegated and piquant harmonies which reflected the altering colours of leaves. In his arrangement of the Finnish song On Suuri Sun Rantas, a soaring soprano line was floated with haunting beauty.
Perhaps the most austere and demanding work was Armenian nationalist composer Komitas' Khoroud Khorin from Patarag, where elements of ancient liturgical chant and a polyphonic hymn filled the hall with a cathedral-like sonority. Contrast this with the playful but equally life-affirming beat of Christopher Tin's African-inspired Baba Yetu, which in 2011 became the first video-game music track to win a Grammy Award.
Further songs in Romanian, Spanish, Finnish, English and French, including composers like Sibelius, Rutter and Poulenc, completed the highly eclectic mix. The encores were designed to bring tears to the eyes, Dick Lee's Bunga Sayang which was preceded by Irish Blessings, a benediction with the repeated refrain “Until we meet again” ringing in the ears.
If these smiling faces among the singers are not besties by now, then there is something wrong with music, and with the world.