On his 2013 debut Mandarin album, American-born Taiwanese singer- songwriter Wang Dawen introduced himself with a cheery Hello.
Now, he wants to share his heart with listeners. "Happy or sad, the bitter experiences in life/I want to share them with you without reserve," he sings on the opening track, You Already Know My Heart.
He gets emotional on Writer's Block and laments over the gently despondent-sounding plucking of strings: "Wrapped in the scarf you gave to me/In the living room strumming the ukulele."
However, the high-spirited Wang is still around on Cram School Sucks, which blows off studies in a light-hearted manner; Roller Coaster, a sweet ride through the first blush of romance; and Turbulence, which twirls over the bumpy patches of a relationship.
HAPPY OR NOT
Wang Dawen/ Universal Music Taiwan
On this more varied and well-rounded album, Wang proves a talented enough songwriter to sprinkle little surprises in his compositions to keep you listening.
Lyrically, he has improved as well from the more straightforward offerings on his debut.
So, yes, this is a follow-up to be happy with.
MANY A NEW DAY
Karrin Allyson with Kenny Barron and Patitucci /Motema
Kansas-born singer Karrin Allyson's latest album offers a refreshing contrast to rising star Cecile McLorin Salvant's album, which was reviewed in these pages a fortnight ago.
Like Salvant, Allyson tackles material that could sound terribly dated, but unlike the former's detached academic approach, Allyson's intimate take unearths new nuances.
That this album of Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes does not sound cornier than a Kansas field at harvest is a tribute to Allyson's storytelling prowess and her sincere approach to the material.
Allyson writes in the liner notes that she has been singing these songs all her life and was cast as South Pacific's Nellie Forbush as a teen. Her sunshiny voice, which she uses with canny care and keen suggestion, sails with seamless ease through the repertoire.
Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin', the cornpone bellow that opens Oklahoma!, benefits especially from the small intimate treatment it gets here, with an arrangement that draws from New Orleans marching band groove.
Allyson sings it with bright sunniness that celebrates the lyrics' optimism, carried along by pianist Kenny Barron's cleanly swinging solo.
The ballads are outstanding: I Have Dreamed is subtle and sensuous, while Out Of Dreams gets a Latin boost from Barron's piano before Allyson turns it into a celebration of happy new love. Similarly, When I Think Of Tom/Hello Young Lovers is a wise blessing that swings in gentle waltz time.
However, Allyson can also bite, as in the coolly satiric, bluesy take on You've Got To Be Carefully Taught, a little thesis on racial prejudice from South Pacific.
All in all, an entirely pleasurable jaunt into middle Americana.
Ong Sor Fern
NORDIC TRUMPET CONCERTOS
Ole Edvard Antonsen, trumpet/Nordic Chamber Orchestra/ Christian Lindberg/BIS 1548
BOOK IT/MUSICAL LANDSCAPES - THE SOUND OF THE NORDIC WITH OLE EDVARD ANTONSEN
WHERE: Victoria Concert Hall
WHEN: Oct 13, 8pm
ADMISSION: $50 to $150 from Sistic (www.sistic.com.sg)
Do not let the title of Nordic Trumpet Concertos deter you - Norwegian virtuoso trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen's anthology does not contain a single atonal work, but rather an eclectic mix of different modern styles which are accessible and engaging.
The Finn Harri Wessman's Trumpet Concerto (1987) is congenial and melancholic, with a main theme that recurs in the finale, heightening the trumpet's ability to sing the moody blues.
This is contrasted with Swede Britta Bystrom's Forvillelser (Delusions, 2005), a more dissonant work that is an unsettling portrait of social isolation and psychosis set in the urban landscape of Stockholm.
The cornet features in Alfred Janson's Norwegian Dance (1996), which has elements of minimalism, with a single theme repeated through cycles of varying tempos.
A manic kind of waltz results, dedicated to the memory of Rikard Nordraak, the short-lived nationalist composer and close friend of Edvard Grieg's.
Celebrated Swedish trombonist and conductor Christian Lind- berg's jazzy Akbank Bunka (2004) is the most extroverted work in the collection, derived from Turkish and Japanese inspirations. Antonsen's exuberant yet sensitive playing is recommended listening for all brass enthusiasts.
Chang Tou Liang
Soloists & Estonian Concert Choir/
Estonian National Symphony/
Paavo Jarvi/Erato 0825646166664
This year marks the 40th death anniversary of Soviet era Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), which will account for the rush of new recordings of his music.
This disc of three rarely performed cantatas demonstrates how a composer's art may be compromised by the political and social milieu he occupies.
While Stalin was alive, composers' works were to glorify the state and party policies, hence the blissful optimism and lack of irony of The Sun Shines Over Our Motherland (1952), which sounds like an extended national anthem at 14 minutes.
A longer pot-boiler, The Song Of The Forests (1949), praising the USSR's reforestation programme, won Shostakovich the Stalin Prize First Class and 100,000 roubles despite having been denounced as a formalist and an enemy-of-thepeople merely a year before.
Contrast these with The Execution Of Stepan Razin (1964), with texts by Soviet poet Yevgeny Yetuvshenko, a mightily serious work which decries political persecution and totalitarianism.
Stalin died in 1953 and his legacy was thrashed by Russian politician Nikita Khrushchev shortly after that. Its dark and bitter subject makes this work the most likely of the three to be performed in concert outside of Russia.
The vividly recorded performances by Paavo Jarvi's Estonian forces are exemplary. Their only drawback is the absence of texts and translations, which would have enhanced the appreciation of this period-specific music.
Recommended listening, nonetheless.
Chang Tou Liang