Hot Tracks

Singapore singer- songwriter Hubert Ng makes his debut with a self-titled EP.
Singapore singer-songwriter Hubert Ng makes his debut with a self-titled EP.PHOTO: TRACY CHIN

This four-song EP marks the debut of Singapore singer-songwriter Hubert Ng as well as points to potential pop idol, given the styling of both his songs and the photographs.

Moreover, the business undergraduate has fresh-faced looks and a voice that passes muster.

Opening number Can't Let Go shows a good grasp of the tuneful ballad with a chorus that soars into falsetto territory. He switches things up with the breezy Angel, which chugs along with rhythmic claps, and the electronic dance-pop of Game Strong.

The lyrics need a little more work - they can sometimes feel too run-of-the-mill.



    Hubert Ng


    3/5 stars

The challenge with putting out accessible pop is not to stick too closely to the middle of the road - you can easily get lost in the mass of traffic there.

Boon Chan

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is on a roll this year, having finally got its Blue Engine Records rolling. Hot on the heels of its Live In Cuba September release comes this album, just in time to catch the seasonal spirit.



    Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

    Blue Engine Records

    4/5 stars

Recorded live over two Christmas gigs in 2013 and last year, this album manages to deliver Christmas chestnuts without the cheese. It helps that the band's stellar talents get quirky arrangements that they deliver in fine style.

Jingle Bells, which opens the album, benefits tremendously from a Basie-style swing piano introduction before muted trumpets call out the signature melody and the rest of the band joins in in pure swinging joy.

The vocal tracks are elevated by a roster of Grammy-nominated talents. Cecile Mclorin Salvant, in typical academic form, chooses to sing an early Ralph Blane/Hugh Martin lyric for Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which contains the rather jarring line: "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last."

But the rarely heard verse introduction does get a welcome airing.

Gregory Porter, borrowing from Jimmy Rushing's nasally warmth, gives bluesy sass to Merry Christmas Baby while Rene Marie has exuberant fun with Zat You, Santa Claus?

In all, this is a great album to spin if you want to get in the Christmas mood without muzak poisoning.

Ong Sor Fern

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) had to wait until he was 43 before he completed his first symphony, so daunted by the prediction that he was to become Beethoven's successor,

However, he had practice in symphonic writing with the two Serenades, his earliest orchestral pieces composed between 1857 and 1859.



    Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo chailly

    Decca 478 6775/5/5 stars

These are, respectively, works in six and five movements, which have models in Mozart and Haydn but point to the promising future of his later works.

The First Serenade (Op. 11) is longer than any of his four symphonies and is filled with the same expressive devices to be found in those masterpieces. Its Scherzo second movement uses a similar theme that occurs in the corresponding movement of the Second Piano Concerto.

The shorter Second Serenade (Op.16) omits violins completely and has the feel of the wind serenades that Mozart so loved. Although less popular than its predecessor, the work is unique in its conception.

Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig, recipients of the Gramophone Award for Brahms' symphonies, deliver the same dedicated and refined performances that so distinguished those readings.

This disc completes their Brahms orchestral cycle, which is essential listening and must be savoured in its entirety.

Chang Tou Liang

French composer Jean Roger- Ducasse (1873-1954) - pupil of Gabriel Faure, classmate of Maurice Ravel and close friend of Claude Debussy - was an important musical establishment during his time. His music fell into neglect, thanks to the inexorable rise of modernism and atonality during the first half of the 20th century.



    Complete Piano Music

    Martin Jones, Piano

    Nimbus Records 5927 (3 CDs) /4.5/5 stars

There is little that is academic, formulaic or reactionary about his piano music, composed between 1899 and 1923, and presented here complete for the first time. His style is allied to Faure's love of melody, and progresses through dense contrapuntal mastery to the subtle dissonances of Debussy's impressionism.

Like Chopin, he favoured smaller forms such as etudes and preludes, and composed three barcarolles, the first of which was a conscious tribute to the Polish genius. Descriptive titles were shunned, which may have led to this absolute music to be virtually forgotten.

The first two discs are devoted to solo music, with the third disc featuring music for four hands, which include three books of etudes. Heard alongside Debussy's etudes, composed around the same time, Roger- Ducasse sounds almost conservative by comparison.

The indefatigable Welsh pianist, Martin Jones, who revels in arcane French and Spanish repertoire, is a totally musical and persuasive guide, bringing much colour and beauty to these unknown gems.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe