Choral society makes impressive debut

REVIEW / CONCERT

VOCAL ASSOCIATES CHORUSES: MASS OF THE CHILDREN

Vocal Associates Festival Choirs, Khor Ai Ming (music director), Joshua Tan Kangming (conductor), Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, Tamagoh (percussion), Tony Makarome (mridangam and double bass)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Sunday

John Rutter's charming Mass Of The Children, a missa brevis (short mass) in Latin, Greek and English text, was the major work for the evening, which was billed as the inaugural concert of Vocal Associates, a choral non-profit company led by choral director Khor Ai Ming.

Calling on the combined forces of Vocal Associates' children's, youth and adult choirs and an 11-piece orchestra, the Mass encapsulates what audiences love in Rutter's music - memorable melodies, transparent harmonies and brilliant orchestration that would sound at home in London's West End.

Conductor Joshua Tan kept a tight rein over the large choir of more than 100 voices. The work has parts for a children's choir and the children were the stars in this performance, with their natural singing in Sanctus & Benedictus and Agnus Dei. The singers were well rehearsed, with good intonation and ensemble to be heard throughout the evening.

The soprano and baritone solo parts were shared by two soloists each.

In the soprano solos, 16-year-old Cheryl Bains was the star - captivating in her solos and singing with accuracy, projection and steadiness well beyond her years. Baritone Keane Ong's phrasing and diction were impressive, but he could have done with more volume.

Central to this very successful performance was Tan's clear, flowing conducting. He drew the best from the orchestra and soloists, though there was little he could do about choral balance as the sopranos had the numbers and depth of ability that left the altos and the men behind.

The second half of the concert featured a riot of colour, with the singers decked out in bright costumes. Directed by Khor, they sang five community songs, a programme that the choir brings to Carnegie Hall in New York in a fortnight.

With music including Dragon Dance by the late Leong Yoon Pin, and arrangements of music from P. Ramlee's Getaran Jiwa by Juliette Lai, a Taiwanese folk song by Jessy Oskar and Liang Wern Fook's Xinyao (Singapore folk song) by Liong Kit Yeng, this half captured the diversity and spirit of a truly Singaporean choral society.

Sandwiched by these pieces was the world premiere of Tony Makarome's What Pattern?, inspired by Konnakol, the South Indian art of vocal percussion, where the choir was joined by a mridangam (Indian percussion instrument) and Western percussion, played by the composer and renowned percussionist Tamagoh.

The choir parts were vocalisations of the catchy, complex sounds of the South Indian percussion. Makarome was able to capture the essence of Konnakol perfectly and the choir handled the rhythmically demanding parts with surprising ease. The short work was a treat for the audience and should go down well in New York.

Khor's conviction that music has the power to unite was again emphasised in a bonus audience singalong, during which she invited a group of 17 visually-handicapped and hearing-impaired children from Lighthouse School whom she has been working with onstage.

Songs in Malay, Mandarin and English topped off this colourful and impressive debut of a choral society that has its heart in the right place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'Choral society makes impressive debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe