Monday, 31 October 2016

MOST HEAVENLY MUSIC OF THE SPHERES / 6th Singapore Lieder Festival / Review

6th Singapore Lieder Festival
The Sing Song Club
The Arts House
Friday (28 October 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 31 October 2016 with the title "Shakespeare in songs".

Perhaps no figure in literary history has had the same impact of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) on the English language, with his plays, sonnets and poems. On the 400th anniversary of his death, the Sing Song Club has devoted the entire 6th edition of the Singapore Lieder Festival to song settings of Shakespeare's verses.

The second of four evenings was a programme of 20 songs drawn from his comedies and problem plays. Thirteen plays were represented, sung with spirit and verve by five local singers accompanied by pianist Shane Thio.

Sing Song Club co-founder tenor Adrian Poon alone sang in ten songs. His mellow, natural and unforced voice was ideally suited for songs with flowing lyrical lines, such as Martin Shaw's I Know A Bank (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Patrick Doyle's Sigh No More, Ladies (Much Ado About Nothing).

Yet when it came to varying styles, such as two settings of Fancy (The Merchant Of Venice), he was fully attuned to each idiom and their nuances. Benjamin Britten's Fancie was more rhythmic, emphasising bell-like staccato phrases, while Francis Poulenc's Fancy was serene and less animated, yet delivered with equal vividness.

If there were one song that was alone worth the price of entry, that would be the newly-commissioned Come Away, Death (Twelfth Night) by Zechariah Goh Toh Chai which received its World Premiere. Also the longest song, its predominant mood was bleakly placid, but giving way to an atmosphere of soothing calm, with Poon's sympathetic entreaties finding an uncanny resonance with quiet drones on the piano. 

Soprano Cherylene Liew's exquisitely poised voice accounted for Hugo Wolf's Lied Des Transferierten Zettel (A Midsummer Night's Dream, sung in German), Ernest Chausson's Chanson D'Amour (Measure For Measure, French) and Haydn's She Never Told Her Love (Twelfth Night, English), which provided further contrasts.

Baritone Daniel Fong was given the honour of opening the recital, where a nice boomy glow to his voice graced Glen Roven's I To The World (Comedy Of Errors) and Schubert's Was Ist Sylvia? (Two Gentlemen Of Verona). The latter was another song with two different settings presented, and Eric Coates' more lyrical Who Is Sylvia? (sung by Poon) resembled a popular song.

In between the songs, there were a couple of amateur readings of Shakespeare, including favourite lines of Poon and Thio which lent a more personal touch to the proceedings. Thio's best loved quote from Henry V turned out to be one of the Bard's wittiest (and cruelest) insults.

The songs for multiple voices included Frederick Keel's You Spotted Snakes (A Midsummer Night's Dream) with soprano Yap Shin Min and mezzo-soprano Ng Sheh Feng, Liza Lehmann's How Sweet The Moonlight (The Merchant Of Venice) and George Shearing's Fie On Sinful Fantasy (Merry Wives Of Windsor). Bob Chilcott's Come Unto These Yellow Sands (The Tempest) closed the delightful evening with three women's voices in the brightest of spirits.    

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