Hot tracks

The competition in the music scene sure is heating up.

Taiwan's Fang Wu has had to take part in several singing contests - Asian Millionstar, Duets and Super Idol (two seasons) - before finally getting the chance to release her debut album, on which she had a hand in composing the music and writing the lyrics for all the songs.

Wu has a sweet and clear voice and there is plenty of room for her pipes to shine in the mostly mid-tempo numbers, even if the music occasionally veers towards the pedestrian, as on Breaking Point.

  • ASIAN POP

    I'M PROMISING

    Fang Wu

    Linfair Records

    *** 1/2

More satisfying are album closer Tomorrow Is Another Day and lead single Accumulated Loneliness, a delicately spare concoction on why people come together ("Because the sum of loneliness makes us rely on each other/Embrace each other's wounds, even if we can't have them").

Lyrically, she draws inspiration from everyday events and objects around her.

The track Challenges uses gaming and levelling up as a metaphor for overcoming hurdles, while Seesaw is about the difficulty of finding that balance in life. She sings on Marathon Girl: "Lalalala/Run this marathon with me."

Good to know that she plans to stick around for the long haul.

Boon Chan


Everyone likes a good comeback story. With Unbreakable, superstar singer Janet Jackson leaves the debris of forgettable music from 20 Y.O. (2006) and Discipline (2008) behind.

With more than a decade of distracting tabloid news - the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of 2004, her brother Michael's death in 2009 and her break-up with producer Jermaine Dupri - Jackson puts the focus back on her music. Her 11th music offering - the first in seven years - answers questions about where she has been, how she has grown and deals with criticism about her love life. The resulting sound here is classic Janet: smooth, sexy and nostalgic.

At times, you get goosebumps because the production makes Janet sound so much like Michael, like the vibe on The Great Forever.

  • R&B

    UNBREAKABLE

    Janet Jackson

    Rhythm Nation Records

    *** 1/2

She also pays tribute to him on Broken Hearts Heal (It was in summer that you left me/The fall and winter never felt so cold/And Lord knows words can never express it/Life feels so empty/I miss you much), where she pours out her emotion.

She knows what the pop charts want, putting out the infectious slow jam, No Sleeep, a steamy earworm with in-demand rapper J. Cole. The song about two lovers coming together is bang on-trend with its uptempo, poppy vibe.

She does not rely on histrionics, but shows off range and depth. She can do stripped down ballads, such as After You Fall, or a club-thumping anthem, with Take Me Away.

Jackson is back, fresh and still wearing her crown as an R&B pop goddess.

Natasha Ann Zachariah


Composer Sergei Prokofiev's charming piece was written to introduce children to the orchestra. In this album by French big band, The Amazing Keystone Big Band, the piece becomes a stepping stone for jazz novices.

The last jazz version of this piece was probably organist Jimmy Smith's 1966 recording which took the original work as an inspiration from which to digress and improvise. This version, commissioned by the Festival Jazz a Vienne in 2012, is a "complete version", with narration by Scottish actor David Tennant.

The piece is an introduction to jazz music - from the big band composition to the arrangements which take the listener on a lightning tour of jazz genres - from the simplicity of stride to the energy of swing to free jazz.

  • JAZZ

    PETER AND THE WOLF AND JAZZ!

    David Tennant and The Amazing Keystone Big Band/Chant du Monde

    ****

Peter's theme is played by a jazz band's rhythm section - the piano, bass and guitar - instead of strings. The wolf is played by trombones and the tuba rather than French horns. The bird is the only one that stays unchanged - the fluttering flute is his perfect frenetic representation. The piece begins with Peter venturing into the meadow, and the arrangement, drawing from stride piano, is charming.

Grandfather's warning is portrayed by the fat grumbles of a bass saxophone; the status report of animals trapped in the tree is arranged in slinky elevator music fashion. Moments of wit and a smart delivery by Tennant and the band mean this is a perfect family treat.

Ong Sor Fern


This year marks the 15th anniversary of Chinese pianist Li Yundi winning First Prize at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw.

This disc includes all of Chopin's Preludes, including the 24 pieces from Op. 28, the standalone Prelude Op. 45 and the under-a- minute-long posthumous number. Yundi is back at his fluid best in an idiom he clearly identifies with and it is an enjoyable listen from start to end.

Lyricism rules in the popular slower Preludes In D Flat Major (No. 15), A Flat Major (No. 17) and C Sharp Minor (Op. 45), and his technique holds up well in the most trying ones, namely the B Flat Minor (No. 16) and D Minor (No. 24).

  • CLASSICAL

    CHOPIN PRELUDES

    Yundi, Piano Deutsche Grammophon

    481 1910

    ****

At just 39 minutes of playing time, this new release, however, is poor value for money.

Listeners apart from Li fanatics should turn to excellent accounts by Martha Argerich and Maurizio Pollini (both also on Deutsche Grammophon), Nikolai Demidenko (Onyx Classics) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca), who offer far more substantial couplings.

Chang Tou Liang


Brazilian Henrique Oswald (1852-1931) and Portuguese Alfredo Napoleao (1852-1917) were close contemporaries who led parallel lives as piano virtuosos. To seek their fortunes, Oswald travelled to Europe, while Napoleao went to Brazil. Both returned to their homelands to spend their final years.

Oswald's Piano Concerto and Napoleao's Second Piano Concerto were products of the 1880s, heavily influenced by Lisztian virtuosity and healthy doses of over-the-top showmanship.

Oswald's G Minor Concerto recalls Schumann and Chopin in the first two movements, but is let down by an empty and frivolous finale that is up there with Saint-Saens.

  • OBSCURE CLASSICS

    OSWALD & NAPOLEAO PIANO CONCERTOS

    Artur Pizarro, Piano

    BBC National Orchestra of Wales

    Martyn Brabbins Hyperion 67984

    *****

Napoleao's E Flat Minor Concerto is more unusual, opening with a slow movement of operatic intensity, the bel canto variety which later gives way to a scintillating scherzo and a lighthearted finale. This is the slightly longer but better work.

Portuguese pianist Artur Pizarro lavishes his charm on these minor masterpieces.

Lovers of Romantic pianism for its whimsicality and excesses should not pass this by.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Hot tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe