Concert review: Lieder Festival is best-kept secret in the local musical calendar

4th Singapore Lieder Festival: Songs To The Divine

The Living Room @ The Arts House/Thursday

The Singapore Lieder Festival appears to be the best-kept secret in the land's musical calendar. Now in its fourth year, its curatorial approach to programming art songs by the Sing Song Club is as astonishingly exhaustive as it is unprecedented. This year's theme is 100 English Composers, featuring 120 songs in English over six evenings, involving six singers and two pianists.

Subjects such as English gardens, the pastoral life, London, Shakespeare, popular culture, entertainment, humour and romance are covered, and composers from Henry Purcell to Andrew Lloyd Webber have been included. This evening's theme was songs of a sacred, spiritual and biblical bent, which proved to be more interesting than the notion suggests. The beneficiaries were just 15 people in the audience, five fewer than the number of songs performed.

The three singers on show presented a wealth of talent and their very different voices were well suited for the repertoire. Mezzo-soprano Joanna Paul, who is better known as an organist and choral conductor, possesses a radiant ring in her registers, capable of instilling awe in Thomas Dunhill's To The Queen Of Heaven, yet soothing in two lullabies, Herbert Fryer's The Virgin's Cradle Hymn and Arnold Bax's Cradle Song.

Both her intonation and pronunciation were impeccable, as was that of Kuala Lumpur-based tenor Peter Ong. He had the task of bringing to life five baroque songs, by Pelham Humphrey, John Blow, Henry Purcell, Jeremiah Clarke and William Croft, in very demanding realisations by Benjamin Britten. Their rather serious content and sombre nature could have cast a pall over the proceedings, but Ong's enormous emotional range and expressive power ensured that the message was not lost.

Pianist Shane Thio was his usual unflustered self, coping well with the multitudes of notes and sometimes even dominating the narrative while supporting the singers to the hilt. His appearance in five of the six concerts (100 songs in total) is a testament to his astounding ability to master new music in a very short span of time.

His co-director at the Sing Song Club, tenor Adrian Poon, had the most varied plate of the evening. His six songs delivered in succession included a psalm (Edmund Rubbra), a prayer (Cyril Rootham), a hymn (Clive Clarey), a popular song (John Rutter), culminating with the concert's longest item, Benjamin Britten's First Canticle, My Beloved Is Mine. Its intimations of love were whole-hearted and dramatic, yet comforted with a serene ending.

The songs by women composers, Caroline Maude and Rebecca Clarke, were sung by Paul, and it was with typical Victorian pomp that she closed the concert with Arthur Sullivan's The Lost Chord, with its harmonious cadences and that life-affirming final Amen. The last concert of the 4th Singapore Lieder Festival, with 20 love songs, takes place on Sunday. Be sure not to miss it.

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