Review: Nathan Hartono charms in Ding Yi's Chinese New Year concert

It was no secret that home-grown heartthrob Nathan Hartono was the event's big sell. PHOTO: DING YI MUSIC COMPANY



Ding Yi Music Company

China Cultural Centre, Saturday (Feb 27)

Social distancing has made this Lunar New Year period a quieter affair, but trust Ding Yi Music Company to mount four sold-out concerts in the space of two evenings.

The chamber outfit's well-received programmes of festive fare at the China Cultural Centre have been de rigueur, but after last year's cancelled gigs, it rebounded with a vengeance.

It was no secret that home-grown heartthrob Nathan Hartono was the event's big sell. The Sing! China 2016 star finalist began his Mandarin song Insomnia with a yawn, crooning about circuit breaker ennui.

Oozing charm from every pore, he made a cover of the Bee Gees' How Deep Is Your Love his own, while displaying wide emotional range in The Longest Movie, arranged by Edmund Song.

Traditional tunes mixed with jazzed-up numbers in the concert, conducted by Dedric Wong De Li.

It opened with the raucous strains of Li Bo Chan's Festive Overture, where a celebratory dance of Central Asian flavour jostled for attention with a soothing serenade.

This was followed by a procession of works based on popular Chinese oldies but updated to the present day.

Ding Yi composer-in-residence Phang Kok Jun dressed up Liangxiao in the blues, with Chia Wan Hua's erhu accompanied by an ensemble with electronic keyboard, bass and drum-set.

There was some improvisation in this Liangxiao Jazz Ballad before the sentimental number revved up its pace to close emphatically.

Sulwyn Lok's Eternal Shanghai Divas was a medley in tribute to legendary chanteuses such as Zhou Xuan and Bai Guang, with melodies Shanghai Nights, Rose Rose I Love You and Ja Jambo paraded quite unabashedly.

Upping the ante was Eric Watson's Hard Rock Fight, based on Li Minxiong's A Well-Matched Fight, pitting Chinese and Western drums in a take-no-prisoners duel. Percussionists Low Yik Hang and Cheong Kah Yiong did the honours with smashing aplomb.

Quite different in mood was Qi Hao Di's Tunes Of Zhejiang, a rhapsodic concertino for yangqin (Chinese dulcimer). Here, Tan Jie Qing's mastery of rippling effects and piquant harmonies held sway in a substantial work that explored modernist idioms alongside the traditional.

The finale was a poignant short film Yu Sheng Mo Yu (A Silent Toss) directed by Jet Ho with music by Yvonne Teo. Set in the heartland, it celebrated "lohei" in the heartland during pandemic times.

No seasonal concert would be complete without the obligatory festive songs, and Hartono returned to lead the proceedings. No communal singing was allowed, only clapping - but even that made the day.

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