Thursday, 4 August 2016


Brendan-Keefe Au, Tenor
Ayano Schramm-Kimura, Soprano
Sim Yikai, Piano
Esplanade Recital Studio
Tuesday (2 August 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 August 2016 with the title "An enchanted evening".

One of the pleasures of a reviewer's lot is tracking the progress of talented musicians from their student years to their professional debuts and beyond. One such talent is tenor Brendan-Keefe Au, who has made significant progress since he was last reviewed in 2012. However one thing that has not changed is his rare skill and zeal in programming themed recitals.

A Little Bit Of Magic referred to the sense of wonder and enchantment encountered in the two-hour-long recital which encompassed five groups of songs united by common themes. He begun the Forest Theme with Lee Hoiby's Be Not Afeard (from The Tempest) and Henry Purcell's Come All Ye Songsters Of The Sky (The Fairy Queen). His clarity of enunciation and projection, as clear as a bell, were well noted.

Schubert's Das Müller und Der Bach (The Miller And The Brooklet) from Die Schöne Müllerin received a most poignant reading, where the heart-broken protagonist contemplates death by drowning. Shifting between minor and major keys, his pleading plucked on heart-strings and refused to let go. In contrast, his partner in song Japanese soprano Ayano Schramm-Kimura struck a dramatic presence in Schubert's Die Erlkönig (The Elf King), a relentless race against time with death by disease being the eventual outcome.

Ayano helmed much of the second set, the Water Theme songs, including Hugo Wolf's funereal Spirits on the Mummelsee Lake and Faure's wordless Vocalise-Etude. Her restraint and purity in the classically proportioned A Chloris by Reynaldo Hahn was a thing of beauty, while emoting beautifully in Czech for Dvorak's familiar Song To The Moon from Rusalka.

Three songs from the Sky Theme revealed near-perfect control from Au, from the transparent lines of Vaughan Williams The Infinite Shining Heavens to the ever-broadening melody of Liza Lehmann's Ah! Moon Of My Delight. In between, Mendelssohn's Auf Flügeln des Gesänges (On Wings Of Song) was gilded with a seamless cantabile. Whoever imagined the paradise mused was not in Germany, but rather exotic India?

Speaking of Faraway Lands as a theme, Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs were brought out with mysterious allure and sensuousness by Ayano. While not atonal, the music was nonetheless chromatically conceived and compactly structured. Unfortunately the audience's tendency to applaud after every short song became a distraction.

Pianist Sim Yikai provided more than adequate accompaniment, although his over-pedalling at parts muddied some of the more densely-textured songs. However he got Scriabin's languid Poeme (Op.32 No.1), a solo while the singers took a breather, spot on.

The final Mundane Theme was anything but mundane. Instead both singers took turns celebrating the worldly pleasures of Poulenc's Les chemins de l'amour (a waltz-song), Weill's Youkali (a tango-song), Richard's Strauss' blissful Morgen! (a wedding night creation) and William Bolcom's cabaret classic Amor. Their duet, Noel Coward's I'll See You Again and encore, Lehmann's There Are Fairies At The Bottom Of My Garden, completed the evening's delights.

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