The Sing Song Club
The Arts House Living Room
Saturday (7 July 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 July 2012 with the title "Pleasures of pastoral songs".

Art song recitals are relatively rare events in the concert calendar here, but there has been a hint of renaissance in recent years. More young Singaporeans are pursuing voice studies here and abroad and this has translated into an increasing number of concerts of vocal concerts. If only the audience for such precious events were growing at this rate.

Only 25 people availed themselves to attend this very fine recital of English songs by the Sing Song Club, a loose but dynamic collective of voice enthusiasts and practitioners led by tenor Adrian Poon and pianist Shane Thio. The group has ambitiously planned a series of 26 recitals, each represented by a letter of the alphabet, over five years to cover a repertoire that is as vast as it is diverse.

This evening, the English art song got its due with 23 numbers, covering some 17 home counties. Dorset and Somerset were represented by Under the Greenwood Tree and O Waly Waly, sung with clear diction and ringing clarity by Poon and baritone Daniel Fong respectively. The pastoral tradition of these songs set the tone of the substantial programme to come.

The many facial expressions of tenor Adrian Poon.

Poon is possessed with a most ardent demeanour and his animated way with words made him just perfect for Noel Coward, whose In The Bar on the Piccola Marina had the audience in stitches. He however met his match in Walton’s Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table, a very demanding cycle of six songs written for the great German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

Its often tricky, rhythmically complex, shifting harmonics and dynamics posed problems for both singer and pianist. Some parts bristled with orchestral textures that it seemed almost ungrateful when heard in this pared down form. Poon manfully coped, and convinced for most part even if his voice was stretched and strained to its tether.

With baritone Daniel Fong, one feels the power in the words.

Fong had a cycle of his own, six songs from George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, set to dark, pessimistic and sometimes death-obsessed words by A.E.Housman. Fong’s baritone is a heroic one, robust in quality and sonorous in projection. Yet he is capable of great sensitivity, lending weight and gravity where it matters, as in the final song’s quiet and reflective end. The composer, Fong explained, had been killed in the trenches several years after its composition.     

Composer Kelly Tang listens intently to a duet version of The Daffodils, which was originally written for a choir of high voices.
Both Poon and Fong joined voices for several duets, including Vaughan Williams’s It was a Lover and his Lass, the sentimental nostalgia of Haydn Wood’s Roses of Picardy, and Singaporean Kelly Tang’s The Daffodils. The last on Wordsworth words and originally for choir of high voices, was deserving of inclusion, and the singers truly made it so.

All three performers take a bow.

Composer and performers meet. Note the parade of Union Jacks adorning the entrance to The Living Room of The Arts House.