Sunday, 23 December 2018


In December every year, The Straits Times publishes a list of the Best and Worst in the arts scene in Singapore, a fixture I have been contributing faithfully over the years. As the number of concert and album reviews published by ST have been diminishing with each season, the choices have also become more difficult to make. Take it or leave it, this is my very personal list for 2018, and it was well worth every minute. 

This Best and Worst list was published in The Sunday Times on 23 December 2018.


Orchestra of the Music Makers
Esplanade Concert Hall, 2 June 2018

Trust the Orchestra of Music Makers (OMM) to mark its 10th anniversary by giving the Singapore premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in commemoration of the great American composer-conductor’s birth centenary. Conducted by Joshua Tan, this most moving of performances featured a large orchestra with electric guitars and rock drum-sets, two choruses with 130 voices, a semi-chorus of 16 street-singers and American tenor Kevin Vortmann in a tour-de-force as the Celebrant.

The concert's roaring success was underpinned by clear-headed direction and ecumenical multimedia visuals which enhanced the music-making. This two-hour long reflection of the liturgical mass enabled every man to find his own faith, unfettered by rigid doctrines or dogmas. 

The Arts House, 12 October 2018

Given the paucity of Singaporean opera, it was a coup for little opera company L’arietta to mount three single-act operas by composer Chen Zhangyi and librettist Jack Lin in a single sitting. This included the world premiere of Kopi For One (2018), featuring the vocal talents of sopranos Akiko Otao and Yee Ee Ping, and tenor Jonathan Charles Tay accompanied by a small ensemble led by the composer himself.

Also performed were his earlier operas Laksa Cantata (2013) and Window Shopping (2014). All three had realistic local settings and scenarios which audiences could easily relate to, and given the high quality of singing and directing, this marked an important landmark in the short and chequered history of Singapore opera.  


CLARISSE TEO Piano Recital
Esplanade Recital Studio, 12 August 2018

Imagine giving a debut piano recital but without playing the music of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms or Chopin. It was sheer audacity for young law graduate-turned-pianist Clarisse Teo to offer a programme of absolute esoterica in works by Mompou, Medtner, D’Indy, Alexandrov and Villa-Lobos, much in the hallowed tradition of the Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum festival in Germany

That she conducted herself with utter confidence and supreme musicality was beyond doubt. Equally admirable was a sizeable audience that was totally enthralled by her performance, and reciprocated with the same warmth and enthusiasm that she had displayed.   


Centaur 3661 / *****

This appears to be a first ever recording coupling the two mammoth piano sonatas of the great Russians composers Piotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninov. Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata in G major and Rachmaninov’s First Sonata in D minor play for well over half-an-hour each, and Singapore-based Filipino pianist Albert Tiu goes for the big picture.

He paces each very well, building up arch-like to thrilling climaxes. Further contrasts provided in the slow movements are brought out with idiomatic feeling and unfailing imagination. Tiu is a born Romantic at heart, and this is proud production of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory that can stand up to scrutiny with the best recordings of the classical catalogue.

re:mix  / FOO SAY MING
re:mix #002 / *****

Here is a new album of popular songs, golden oldies mixed with more recent ones, performed by the land's leading purveyor of musical nostalgia, the crack string ensemble re:mix led by Singapore Symphony Orchestra first violinist Foo Say Ming.

The two major works are by Hong Kong-based British composer-conductor Dominic Sargent. Sonatina headily brings together Bee Gees, Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson, while Sonata Latina recycles songs like Solamente Una Vez, Quizas Quizas Quizas, Besame Mucho, Desafinado and Conga.

Singaporean arrangers Chen Zhangyi and Derek Lim also get a look in. Foo and his charges are sumptuously recorded, making this classy trip to yesteryear a most memorable one.  

CHOPIN The Complete Preludes
MusicShaun / *****

With this self-produced and self-recorded album, young pianist Shaun Choo became only the second Singaporean (after Azariah Tan) to record an all-Chopin disc. The main work is the complete set of 24 Préludes (Op.28). Choo finds a wealth of nuances and kaleidoscopic responses in this seemingly disparate set of miniatures.

In the scintillating Grande Valse Brillante in E flat major (Op.18), he combines elegance with exuberance. The programme is completed by the brooding Nocturne in C minor (Op.48 No.1) and the very familiar “Heroic” Polonaise in A flat major (Op.53), performed with passion and polish. Choo is a compelling home-grown artist destined for even bigger things.

This disc is available at and online/streaming platforms like Spotify and Deezer.    


Deutsche Grammophon 479 8756 / **1/2

The Germany-born Menahem Pressler (born 1923) is the “grand old man” of the piano. However, his solo album of French piano music, recorded last year, does his legacy scant justice. Almost every item is played at a funereal and lugubrious tempo.  Claude Debussy’s First Arabesque, Reverie and Clair de lune (from Suite Bergamasque) are so dragged out that one’s patience is sorely tested. The same stolidity applies to the selection of five Préludes, while Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte stretches to nearly 8 minutes. A dispiriting showing from a great pianist.   

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