Hot tracks: Pakho Chau's White, Joey Alexander's My Favorite Things and more

Asian Pop

WHITE

Pakho Chau

Warner Music Hong Kong

***

Hong Kong singer-songwriter Pakho Chau held his first gig in Singapore only last month. But he has been chalking up Cantopop hits at home since his debut in 2007.

His new EP continues that streak as the ballad Little White scaled the territory's charts.

There is something interesting going on thematically on the record as the tracks touch on impermanence and fragility as well as holding on to innocence. White is a symbol for both emptiness and purity.

"The kite descends quietly/Paradise is flattened quietly," he sings in Prologue.

And on Little White, he reminds listeners: "No matter how fickle and fragile life is, it still has a unique meaning/You are the child who has come to tell me everything."

With his sonorous and soothing pipes, the former model and national basketball player nabbed the Best Male Singer Gold accolade for the first time at the Ultimate Song Chart Awards 2014, beating veterans Andy Hui and Eason Chan.

His credible sole Mandarin effort here, Make The Same Mistake, suggests he is ready for his crossover into the big time.

Boon Chan


Jazz

MY FAVORITE THINGS

Joey Alexander

Motema

****

Opening with John Coltrane's Giant Steps is a big statement for any debut album. Even more so when the musician in question is an 11-year-old.

Indonesian prodigy Joey Alexander, full name Josiah Alexander Sila, is the biggest little thing to hit jazz in recent times. He received an endorsement from pianist Herbie Hancock when he was just eight and now lives in New York and shares a manager with no less a luminary than trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

His debut album gives jazz lovers around the world a chance to hear what all the fuss is about. The opening number is promising: Despite his tender age, he shows an admirable grasp of the legendary Coltrane changes, the chord changes in thirds.

And his programming choices - two Thelonius Monk tunes, a Billy Strayhorn and a couple of Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein - shows his awareness of jazz history and good taste in influences.

Child prodigies sometimes come off sounding robotic - technical skills trumping musical sensibilities, resulting in flawless deliveries that sound unsettlingly detached. Alexander has the technical chops, but displays a startlingly mature sensitivity. On tracks such as Lush Life and My Favorite Things, you can literally hear him paying attention to fellow musicians bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr, ducking in and out of their beats, reacting to changes in rhythm and skimming little melodic runs and chromatic changes over their sturdy pulses.

That ability to listen and interact is a priceless asset in any musician's arsenal, but especially in jazz, where improvisation depends on interaction.

This is an album to warm the cockles of any jazz fan's heart. It is heartening to hear the future of jazz and heartwarming to see the recognition of its history in Alexander's playing.

Ong Sor Fern


Classical

SCHUMANN PIANO WORKS

Imogen Cooper, Piano

Chandos 10755 & 10841

****

These are the first two discs of what appears to be a recorded cycle of piano works of German Romantic composer Robert Schumann (1810- 1856), by esteemed British pianist Imogen Cooper, offering very satisfying fill-ups by composers of his immediate circle.

The first CD showcases Schumann as a supreme craftsman of both miniatures and larger canvasses.

His eight Fantasiestucke Op. 12 (Fantasy Pieces) runs the full gamut of expression, from the blissful calm of Des Abends (Evening) to virtuosic upheavals of In Der Nacht (In The Night) to the flight of whimsy in Traumes Wirren (Restless Dreams).

Also in eight but linked parts is Kreisleriana Op. 16, one of his greatest rhapsodic works, inspired by author E.T.A. Hoffmann's literary creation. The Theme And Variations In D Minor (from the First String Sextet) by the precocious Johannes Brahms, who was a young confidante of the Schumanns, makes a sober but apt addition.

The second disc is dominated by the multi-part Humoresque Op. 20, another work alternating lyricism and turbulence (although less stormy than Kreisleriana), and the First Sonata In F Sharp Minor Op. 11, the most often performed of his three sonatas.

One point of interest is the inclusion of his teenaged wife-to-be Clara Wieck's Le Ballet Des Revenants (Op. 5 No. 4), which shares the same theme as the 1st movement exposition of the sonata.

Cooper performs these in succession, establishing the thematic and emotional links between the two lovers.

The performances in both discs are unfailingly musical and enhance the appreciation of the Schumanns and their world.

Chang Tou Liang


20th-century Classics

1917 WORKS FOR VIOLIN & PIANO

Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Violin

Huw Watkins, Piano

Signum Classics 376 (2 CDs)

*****

The year 1917 was a tumultuous one. Europe was still mired in war while the Russian tsar had just been overthrown. Music was entering a modernistic, iconoclastic and atonal phase.

The works on this album by four major composers, all written in that year, recorded their reactions to the earth-shaking events around them. All are tonal but radically different.

Debussy's Violin Sonata In G Minor was conceived near his death, a brief rhapsodic work that meant to freely espouse French aesthetics while repudiating stolid German ones.

Sibelius' Five Pieces Op. 81 have a salon quality and include a mazurka, waltz, rondino and minuet, charming dances bringing to mind the bygone world of Kreisler's miniatures.

Respighi's Violin Sonata In B Minor is darkly hewn but concludes with a passacaglia, the ancient variations form from the baroque.

Elgar's Violin Sonata In E Minor also looks back with nostalgia to a more innocent age but not without struggles to cope with the present.

British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen coaxes a beautiful tone from her 1721 Stradivarius, capturing the dramatic and lyrical vistas of these works. She and pianist Huw Watkins are vividly recorded and this 85-minute recital (on two discs priced as one) never fails to engage.

Chang Tou Liang