Voices with heart

REVIEW / CONCERT

SOULFUL SOUNDSCAPES

Vox Camerata

Chamber at The Arts House/ Last Saturday

One of the best settings to make music and real friends is in a choir.

Under the banner of corporate artistic endeavour, people from disparate cultures and walks of life gather and find common ground for genuine musical expression.

The a cappella choir Vox Camerata is such a group. Its 21 singers - 14 women and seven men - include young adults and the odd bona fide opera singer.

Its 60-minute recital, led by the young choral conductor Shahril Salleh and his assistant Jolene Khoo, was compact, varied and ambitious. It had the comforting theme of childhood and home, and suggestions of nostalgia and longing. These motifs were bolstered by the poetry and stories read by the concert host Lo Yen Nee.

The recital opened with an Aland Islands fisherman's song, Who Can Sail Without The Wind?. Sung in Swedish and arranged by Robert Sund, it is a poignant song with a gentle lilt and the choir responded with general warmth.

The tone became more serious in William Byrd's I Will Not Leave You Comfortless. Sung in Latin, the reassuring lyrics were capped with a chorus of hallelujahs.

Transcriptions of folk songs were a mainstay of the programme and they included Shahril's take on the Japanese children's song Aka Tombo (Red Dragonfly) and Floris van Vugt's South African lullaby Thula Baba, Thula Sana, which had its infectious rhythms tapped out by guest percussionist Marcus Teo on the box-shaped cajon.

Two original songs by Shahril featured only female voices. Dua Tiga Kuching Berlari (Two Three Cats Are Running) was a Malay song accompanied by mewing in the manner of Rossini's famous Cat Duet. Seasons Change, after a Sandra Milligan poem, featured variegated and piquant harmonies that reflected the changing colours of leaves.

Perhaps the most austere and demanding work was Armenian composer Komitas' Khoroud Khorin from Patarag. It had elements of an ancient liturgical chant and a polyphonic hymn and it filled the hall with a cathedral-like sonority.

The eclectic programme also included songs in Romanian, Spanish, Finnish and French, and works by composers such as Sibelius, Rutter and Poulenc.

The encores were designed to bring tears to the eyes. Dick Lee's Bunga Sayang was preceded by Irish Blessings, a benediction with the repeated refrain "until we meet again" ringing in one's ears.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Voices with heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe