New albums by Donka Angatschewa, See Siang Wong and Melissa Manchester

Melissa Manchester is better known for her adult contemporary pop hits of the 1970s.
Melissa Manchester is better known for her adult contemporary pop hits of the 1970s. PHOTO: LONG RUN ENTERTAINMENT




Donka Angatschewa, piano

Vogtland Philharmonie and

Stefan Fraas

Ars Production 38 168

5 stars



See Siang Wong, piano

Sony Classical 88985353612 (2 CDs)

4 stars

The ability of the piano to bring out human emotions and feelings accounts for its ubiquitous use in movie music. These two recordings mine a well-excavated vein that does not look like it is exhausting soon.

Not all the works in the album by Bulgaria-born pianist Donka Angatschewa were originally conceived for piano, but every bit sounds evocative.

Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto (composed for war movie Dangerous Moonlight) is a classic in recycling Rachmaninov's lush Romantic renderings.

Nino Rota's Concerto Soiree is a concert piece in four short movements, reliving the different styles of his movie music - the pathos-laden, dramatic and comedic.

Astor Piazolla's Four Seasons Of Buenos Aires is a celebration of the sultry tango cast as a four-movement piano trio concerto, with hot-blooded passion overflowing.

Dutch-Chinese pianist See Siang Wong's double-disc of piano solos from the movies leans heavily on the New Age and minimalist groove, which makes for enjoyable lounge music. There are tracks by Michael Nyman (The Piano), Dave Grusin (On Golden Pond), Ryuichi Sakamoto (Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and The Last Emperor), Philip Glass (The Hours and The Truman Show), Joe Hisaishi (Spirited Away) and Yiruma (River Flows In You), but not everything such as Pachelbel's Canon or Mahler's Adagietto translates equally well for piano.

This is, nonetheless, easy listening.

Chang Tou Liang



Melissa Manchester

Long Run Entertainment

4 stars

Melissa Manchester is better known for her adult contemporary pop hits of the 1970s. And casual listeners may not know that she has strong jazz and Broadway connections, having been discovered by Barry Manilow and sung backup for Bette Midler early in her career. She also recorded an album, Tribute, in 1989, saluting female jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Rosie Clooney and Judy Garland whom she admired.

This new crowdfunded album is in the same vein, but tips a hat to the male vocalists.

Manchester's full-bodied voice is well suited to Tony Bennett-style belting, but she proves she has a more nuanced approach. She sets the swinging, strutting tone on the first track with Dean Martin's Rat Pack-era hit, Ain't That A Kick In The Head, soaring confidently above the Blue Note Orchestra's brassy wall of sound. She is playfully extroverted on the old chestnut For Me And My Gal, where her mentor Manilow makes a cameo appearance. They harmonise sweetly and avoid the abyss of camp with the polished ease of seasoned professionals.

Manchester shines in the ballads where she is, by turns, girlishly vulnerable on a bossa take on Chances Are and both conversational and melancholic on How Do You Keep The Music Playing.

An unexpectedly bountiful album from an almost-forgotten pop name, just perfect for #throwbackthursdays.

Ong Sor Fern

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2018, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe