Hot Tracks

Prince of love ballads Jeff Chang took part in the fourth season of the televised reality contest I Am A Singer and proved that he was music royalty indeed, finishing second behind Hong Kong-born Coco Lee.

One of the highlights of the show was his performance of Julie Su's My Dear Child backed by a chorus of aboriginal moppets. The version of it found here retains the chorus and adds an evocative brass solo as Chang sings about the plight of vulnerable children.

But this is not simply a lazy collection of the tracks he performed during the competition. Instead, Chang goes for classics that showcase his pristine pipes, including Sandy Lam's Suffer For You and Wang Leehom's Crying Palms.

His cover of Sarah Chen's Red Dust does not quite work, though, as the epic feel of the number cries out for a full-throated take rather than a delicate one.



    Jeff Chang

    Sony Music Entertainment

    3.5/5 stars

The lone new song Grey, about paternal love, touchingly features the unpolished vocals of Chang's father.

The remake of Chang's own hit, Love Like A Tide, is unnecessary but it does show that he is still in fine form vocally since he first sang it in 1993 for his fifth Mandarin album, Worrying.

Trends come and trends go, but a beautiful singing voice will never go out of style.

Boon Chan

Why, hello there, Ms Monheit, where on earth have you been all this time?

  • JAZZ


    Jane Monheit

    Emerald City Records

    3/5 stars

Since she landed the spot of first runner-up in the Thelonious Monk Institute's vocal competition in 1998, Jane Monheit has released a slew of polished but unremarkable jazz albums. Her flexible soprano voice, burnished as it is, was often hampered by almost soporific delivery and her albums, more often than not, bored me silly with their jazz-lite programming.

Her latest effort, however, marks a surprise awakening. Issued on her own label, The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald benefits greatly from the presence of trumpeter/arranger/producer Nicholas Payton.

The opening track, All Too Soon, throws down the jazz gauntlet with its syncopated percussion introduction and Monheit bending notes a la Betty Carter. The unusual arrangement, with New Age-y tinkles and organ accompaniment, remakes the ballad with contemporary verve while acknowledging the sweetness of the version sung by Ella Fitzgerald to Joe Pass' guitar backing.

From there, it gets - mostly - better as Monheit and Payton go on a survey of Fitzgerald's catalogue. Look out especially for the oddball mash-up that teams a twinkly harp-lined I Was Doing All Right with a slinky take on Amy Winehouse's Know You Now.

Going indie suits this jazz singer.

Ong Sor Fern

Some 27 years after his death, new recordings of the Ukraine-born piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) continue to pop up with surprising frequency. His legend still burns brightly and this one comes from a public broadcast of his Chicago concert on Oct 26, 1986. It thematically echoes the more famous Moscow concert of the same year, but he is caught in better form.



    Vladimir Horowitz, Piano

    Deutsche Grammophon 479 4649 (2 CDS)

    5/5 stars

Two Scarlatti sonatas and two Scriabin etudes bookend a selection of Mozart, a composer in whom he had developed a belated interest. His performances of the cheery Sonata In C Major (K.330), austerely beautiful Adagio In B Minor (K.540) and Rondo In D Major (K.485) are wonderfully contrasted and nothing less than absorbing.

New to the discography are Schumann's Arabeske (Op. 18) and Chopin's Mazurka In C Sharp Minor (Op. 63, No. 3), works by composers he had special feelings for. In Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet No. 104 and Soirees De Vienne No. 6 (based on Schubert waltzes), he tops his Moscow effort with cleaner takes and this imperious sweep carries into the rough and tumble of Chopin's Scherzo No. 1.

Two familiar encores by Schumann (Traumerei) and Moszkowski (Etincelles) complete this splendid recital. The bonus of this album is to hear Horowitz candidly speak in two radio interviews.

Chang Tou Liang

Here is a new fix for those who have enjoyed the piano concertos of Mozart and Hummel and wonder what more the classical era has to offer the pianophile.



    Howard Shelley, Piano

    Ulster Orchestra

    Hyperion 68104

    4.5/5 stars

The chief claims to fame of Berlin- born pianist-composer Daniel Steibelt (1765-1823) were his challenge to Beethoven to a pianistic duel (and lost) and his scoring works to include a tambourine part to be played by his wife.

His virtuosic piano concertos score high on special effects rather than originality, but who is to say Beethoven did not learn something from his old foe.

Steibelt's Piano Concerto No. 3 (1798) is nicknamed L'Orage (Storm) because its finale cooks up a raging tempest not unlike that in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The title A La Chasse (The Hunt) comes from the hunting horn theme in Piano Concerto No. 5 (1802), something which Beethoven fully exploited in his Emperor Concerto, also in E flat major.

The much-maligned tambourine appears in Piano Concerto No. 7 (1816), the Grand Concerto Militaire as it employs batteries of wind, brass and percussion to most bombastic effect.

British pianist-conductor Howard Shelley has his hands full and cannot but delight in these vulgar but surprisingly likable novelties.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe