Colourful singing lifts minimalist show



Schola Cantorum Singapore Chamber Choir/Albert Tay

Esplanade Recital Studio/Sunday

In keeping with the concept of minimalism, which is the theme of the current series of Spectrum concerts put on by the Esplanade, Albert Tay did his best to turn this into a one-man show.

About half of this 80-minute presentation was exclusively devoted to him. Mostly, he spent that time offering wide-ranging commentary on the music. He also tried hard to engage in dialogue with the audience.

Sadly, he laboured largely in vain, achieving success only at the end when an eloquent riposte was offered by a 41/2-year-old boy called Victor.

Tay also frequently spoke about himself, persistently referring to himself in the third person as if to distance his stage persona from the extremely talented individual he was referring to.

He had composed one of the seven short choral items in the programme and not only conducted it, but also featured as its sole vocal soloist, both orating and singing the Chinese words on which the piece Longing was based.

Behind the scenes, he had certainly trained the Schola Cantorum choir well.

In Dragon Dance by Leong Yoon Pin, the choir produced vividly colourful singing, full of variety and effect.

Even more impressive was its compelling and genuinely beautiful account of The Wing by Kelly Tang. The singers revelled in its sumptuous textures and rich melodic detail and the only fault was that it was over far too quickly.

Ironically, neither of these works was genuinely minimalist, but who cares when the singing was so good?

As it was, the two classic examples of what Tay described as Spiritual Minimalism turned out far less convincing in performance.

The fault here seemed to lie in Tay striving to underline the ecstatic beauties of both Arvo Part's The Beatitudes and John Tavener's famous Song For Athene.

Their true beauty lies in the directness and simplicity of their musical language, which was lost in these rather forced performances.

Thomas Jennefelt's Villarosa Sarialdi was the longest single musical item in the programme and also the most difficult.

Occasionally, intonation wavered. But this was ultimately a very successful and enjoyable performance and the look of triumph on the singers' faces spoke volumes as to how much hard work had gone into carrying this complex work off so well.

The Schola Cantorum Singapore Chamber Choir fully deserved to bask in self-congratulation when it was over. Unfortunately, it was denied this.

Once the singers sat down, Tay picked up the microphone once more and launched into another verbose speech.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Colourful singing lifts minimalist show'. Print Edition | Subscribe