Shakespeare in songs



6th Singapore Lieder Festival

The Sing Song Club

The Arts House/Last Friday

Perhaps no figure in literary history has had the same impact of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) on the English language, with his plays, sonnets and poems. On the 400th anniversary of his death, The Sing Song Club has devoted the entire sixth edition of the Singapore Lieder Festival to the song settings of Shakespeare's verses.

The second of four evenings was a programme of 20 songs drawn from his plays. Thirteen plays were represented, sung with spirit and verve by five local singers accompanied by pianist Shane Thio.

Sing Song Club co-founder tenor Adrian Poon sang in 10 songs. His mellow, natural and unforced voice was ideal for songs with flowing lyrical lines, such as Martin Shaw's I Know A Bank (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Patrick Doyle's Sigh No More, Ladies (Much Ado About Nothing).

Yet when it came to varying styles, such as two settings of Fancy (The Merchant Of Venice), he was attuned to each idiom and the nuances. Benjamin Britten's Fancie was more rhythmic, emphasising bell-like staccato phrases, while Francis Poulenc's Fancy was serene and less animated, yet delivered with equal vividness.

If there was one song that was worth the price of entry, that would be the newly commissioned Come Away, Death (Twelfth Night) by Zechariah Goh Toh Chai which received its world premiere. Also the longest song, its predominant mood was bleakly placid, but giving way to an atmosphere of soothing calm, with Poon's sympathetic entreaties finding an uncanny resonance with quiet drones on the piano.

Soprano Cherylene Liew's exquisitely poised voice accounted for Hugo Wolf's Lied Des Transferierten Zettel (A Midsummer Night's Dream, sung in German), Ernest Chausson's Chanson D'Amour (Measure For Measure, French) and Haydn's She Never Told Her Love (Twelfth Night, English), which provided further contrasts.

Baritone Daniel Fong was given the honour of opening the recital, where a nice boomy glow to his voice graced Glen Roven's I To The World (Comedy Of Errors) and Schubert's Was Ist Sylvia? (Two Gentlemen Of Verona). The latter was another song with two different settings presented, and Eric Coates' more lyrical Who Is Sylvia? (sung by Poon) resembled a popular song.

In between the songs, there were a couple of amateur readings of Shakespeare, including favourite lines of Poon and Thio which lent a more personal touch to the proceedings.

The songs for multiple voices included Frederick Keel's You Spotted Snakes (A Midsummer Night's Dream) with soprano Yap Shin Min and mezzo-soprano Ng Sheh Feng, Liza Lehmann's How Sweet The Moonlight (The Merchant Of Venice) and George Shearing's Fie On Sinful Fantasy (Merry Wives Of Windsor). Bob Chilcott's Come Unto These Yellow Sands (The Tempest) closed the delightful evening with three women's voices in the brightest of spirits.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Shakespeare in songs'. Print Edition | Subscribe