Coming up roses



Sing Song Club

Living Room at The Arts House


One of the best kept secrets in Singapore's musical scene has to be concerts by the Sing Song Club, the nation's premier exponent of the art song.

Its annual Lieder Festival and Alphabet Series of song recitals deserve to be better attended, given the labour of love devoted to the curatorship of art songs and the actual performances.

Hundreds of origami and knitted roses greeted an audience of about 30 people attending its latest recital in the Alphabet Series, an hour-long programme on the subject of roses.

Limited to songs only in English, there was still an encyclopaedic dimension to the 20 on offer, sung by tenor Adrian Poon and soprano Rebecca Li, accompanied on piano by the ubiquitous Shane Thio.

The art of writing songs is an elusive one, as setting the right words to the right kind of music determines whether a song is memorable or not. A lyrical quality is essential for a vocal artist to realise a song's full potential for it to make the "popular" list. All the songs, whether by English or American composers, had been a hit at one time or another.

Benjamin Britten's unusual harmonisations add something tangible to Sweeter Than Roses by baroque composer Henry Purcell and the Irish song The Last Rose Of Summer.

These make the listener more keenly receptive to the melodies and words. Edward MacDowell's To A Wild Rose is better known in its original piano setting, but the added words flesh out the raw emotions within.

Tenor Poon has a fresh and youthful vitality, a natural ring to his voice that does not need to overexert in order to communicate. The swing to be found in Joe Burke's Rambling Rose, the haunting melancholy of Marc Blitzstein's The Rose Song and Christopher Irvin's rapturous A Wedding Among Roses were well-suited to his crooner's temperament.

Soprano Li is more of a stage diva, judging by her regular operatic roles, who can carry songs to shattering climaxes. She comfortably hit the lofty reaches of Haydn Wood's well-known showpiece Roses Of Picardy, oozed sentimentality in Roger Quilter's A Last Year's Rose and hammed it up like a Broadway showgirl for James Hanley's Second Hand Rose.

There were, unfortunately, no duets, but a thematic approach that linked the songs lent much coherence to the breezy hour that passed quickly. Roses in gardens, roses in the wild, roses of love, transient and sickly roses, girls named Rose and mankind's love of roses were sub-themes within this absorbing whole. Pianist Thio was reliable as always, supporting the vocalists to the hilt.

Three more recitals beckon from Oct 16 to 18 at The Arts House, in a Lieder Festival dedicated to songs by Singaporean composers in celebration of the nation's 50 years. The rarity factor ensures that this is a must-attend event. You read it here first.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Coming up roses'. Subscribe