New albums by Li Ronghao, Katharine McPhee and Mark Kosower

  • POP

  • EN

    Li Ronghao

    Warner Music Taiwan

    3.5/5 Stars

Chinese singer-songwriter Li Ronghao has made his name with finely crafted, and performed, mid-tempo tracks about life and love on Model (2013), 2014's eponymous album and An Ideal (2016).

He shakes things up here on the opening title track by serving a slice of electronica pop with lyrics that sketch a portrait of millennial youth: "Don't like tattoos of dragons and phoenixes/To bleed for one you love/Perhaps the upper classes won't get it."

The misguided attempt to connect with a younger audience is worrying. Luckily, much of the album is still Li doing what he does best - contemplating the vicissitudes of life and relationships at a slower pace.

The poignant Ballad sees him draw strength from ditties that remind him of home: "Ballads from hometown/ Are a good thing to me/They're the most tenacious side of me/Whenever I feel low, I'd sing them."

Wish You Happiness is melodic and moving: "Last night, unknowingly, falling leaves fell, a fairy-tale like autumn/That day a girl faced the phone, do you still love me."

There is also Teenager, a song about taking life by the horns which features a cappella harmonisation: "While you're still unafraid/Choose a path and set off/Don't look back/ While you're still a young man." Despite the title, this might resonate more strongly with older listeners looking wistfully back on their youth.

Boon Chan

  • JAZZ


    Katharine McPhee


    2.5/5 Stars

American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee has parlayed her profile from the singing contest into a budding career in pop and a starring stint in the shortlived television series Smash. Her fifth studio album brings together a classic line-up of standard ballads.

Production-wise, it is hard to argue with the silky string arrangements and slick sounds captured at the landmark Capitol Studios, where Frank Sinatra recorded his best works.

Unfortunately, delivery-wise, McPhee's light pop stylings and breathily thin voice do not do justice to the songs. The keynote for jazz is interpretation and, while McPhee can carry a tune, she is flatly without nuance when it comes to interpretation.

All The Way, which opens the album, becomes a passable hotel lounge standard, lacking the melancholy heartbreak that characterised Sinatra's classic take.

Similarly, ballads such as I'll Be Seeing You and Sooner Or Later (I Always Get My Man), boosted with string arrangements, also suffer from McPhee's fondness for poppy melismas, meaningless frills that do nothing for the songs but show off little vocal fireworks.

The whole enterprise is so blandly inoffensive that it is instantly destined to be perfect aural wallpaper for classy hotels everywhere.

Ong Sor Fern



    Mark Kosower, Cello; Ulster Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta

    Naxos 8.573517

    4.5/5 Stars

Dublin-born American composer Victor Herbert (1859-1924) was a virtuoso cellist and bandleader before making his name writing musicals such as Babes In Toyland.

His two cello concertos deserve to be heard mostly because they are filled with good memorable tunes, besides being totally concert-worthy vehicles for cello virtuosos.

The First Cello Concerto In D Major (1884) is slightly longer and in the traditional three-movement form shared by most Romantic concertos. His Second Cello Concerto In E Minor (1894) is more famous, mostly because it gave Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak, then living in the United States, ideas about writing his own cello concerto. The cyclical form with recurring themes contrasting the dramatic and lyrical, within three connected sections, makes it a concentrated but absorbing listen.

The likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Gautier Capucon have recorded it, both coupled with the Dvorak Cello Concerto. American cellist Mark Kosower is their equal and his disc provides further opportunities to explore unfamiliar territory. The splendid Ulster Orchestra directed by JoAnn Falletta adds Herbert's Irish Rhapsody (1892) which strings together popular Irish melodies of the time to glorious effect.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2017, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe