Restage delightful recital, please



Khor Ai Ming (soprano), Bertrand Lee (piano)

Esplanade Recital Studio


In October last year, shortly before Khor Ai Ming's recital with the intriguing title I Hate Music, the soprano was struck down with a serious throat complaint.

Three months on, she was finally able to return to the stage to present a somewhat truncated version of that original programme.

Clearly, her voice has not fully recovered, but, as she demonstrated most eloquently on Thursday evening, a song recital is far more than just a voice.

Her gloriously communicative personality and innate musicianship more than made up for the times when vocal intentions could not be translated into reality.

She probably spoke a lot more than either her doctor or her voice therapist - both present in the packed audience - would have liked, but the remarkable sensitivity of her tremendously supportive pianist, Bertrand Lee, meant that when things did get a tiny bit wobbly, the music shone through regardless.

The programme began with two songs by Stephen Foster. One of the great song writers of the 19th century, his songs are often dismissed for their simple tunefulness and direct expression.

Yet it was these two aspects which Khor brought across unambiguously in her engagingly direct delivery, reminding the audience just why Foster's songs had once been so immensely popular.

Indeed, a song which was once so popular few sopranos would dare not sing it - Balfe's I Dreamt I Dwelt In Marble Halls - was one of the highlights of this delightful recital.

Khor's sweet, if occasionally unsteady, voice proved ideal and was greatly enhanced by an excellent combination of drums (Tamagoh), bass (Tony Makarone), guitar (Sebastian Ho) and flute (Rit Xu).

With such accomplished musicians at hand, it is a shame Khor did not allow them a number or two on their own to give her voice a welldeserved rest.

The remainder of the programme was given over to the songs of Leonard Bernstein, for whom Khor obviously has deep affection.

The high point of the recital came with the title song-cycle, I Hate Music. This comprises five tiny songs purporting to offer a child's view of the world around her.

She brought out the delightful innocence of these far-from- straightforward miniatures by means of some captivating vocal and visual characterisations.

Naive and childish as Khor presented herself here, this was, at heart, a highly sophisticated and perceptive performance which went far beyond an ability to control a voice.

When I suggest that Khor should present this programme again once her voice is fully restored, I do not mean to suggest that there was anything lacking in this performance.

It is just that it was so enjoyable, I'd love to hear it again.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2017, with the headline 'Restage delightful recital, please'. Print Edition | Subscribe