An enchanted evening

REVIEW / CONCERT

A LITTLE BIT OF MAGIC

Brendan-Keefe Au, tenor, Ayano Schramm-Kimura, soprano, Sim Yikai, piano

Esplanade Recital Studio

Tuesday

One of the pleasures of a reviewer's job 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 recital, which encompassed five groups of songs united by common themes. He began 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 were clear as a bell.

Schubert's Der Muller Und Der Bach (The Miller And The Brook) from Die Schone Mullerin, where the heart-broken protagonist contemplates death by drowning, received a most poignant reading.

In contrast, his partner in song, Japanese soprano Ayano SchrammKimura, struck a dramatic presence in Schubert's Der Erlkonig (The Elf King), a relentless race against time with death by disease being the eventual outcome.

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

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

Speaking of Faraway Lands as a theme, Schramm-Kimura brought out Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs with mysterious allure and sensuousness. 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 in some 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 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 Our Garden, completed the evening's delights.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'An enchanted evening'. Print Edition | Subscribe