Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review: 'A Little Bit of Magic' by Brendan-Keefe Au and Ayano Schramm-Kimura

'A Little Bit of Magic' by Brendan-Keefe Au and Ayano Schramm-Kimura
Review by Alvin Koh Ming-Chuen

A Little Bit of Magic, a humble title did not quite do justice to this evening 's song and piano recital at the esplanade recital studio.

Greeted by a misty ambiance, one wondered what was happening, what was transpiring. You were shrouded by the grayish pastel mist that created a mysterious quality. The hues changed according to the themes of Forest, Water, Sky, Faraway Lands and The Mundane. In the sky theme section, there were lights of stars grazing the stage. Seemed a little more than just a little bit.

The first song from the opera, The Tempest by Hoiby, amply initiated the event after a succinct introduction by Mr. Brendan-Keefe Au, whose use of a visibly slow and energetic vibrato and a darkened tonal shade was appropriate for the characterisation of the monster Caliban. It started off the forest theme with a definite sureness.

Except for what was perceived as a forgivable faux pas in the introductory accompaniment to Purcell's Come all ye songsters of the Sky from The Fairy Queen, Mr. Sim Yi Kai did a beautiful job accompanying both singers with a musical sensitivity and finesse that had developed further since I last heard him during my NTU NIE days. The almost sychronised inhalation he had with Miss Ayano Schramm-Kimura in some songs, notably the Seven Early Songs by Alban Berg, showed rapport in terms of the pianist/singer dynamics. He seemed to be more in his element in the romantic works, casting a spell on us as his fingers cascaded across the ivories. His solo pianoforte was truly magical, drrawing out beautiful streams of hues from the instrument.

Miss Schramm-Kimura was an unassuming singer with a certain vulnerability that is immensely likable. She carried herself well and sang quite competently despite a tone that is slightly heavier on undertones than higher formants, which in some places could sound like she was being flat pitch-wise. Also, in Schubert's Der Erlkonig (The Elf King), her tone was a little breathy but she negotiated the treacherous low notes which borders near the lyric soprano's first passaggio quite courageously. It is a feat intepreting this highly demanding lied, not just because it was composed for the male voice, but also that it requires a wide palette of colours and dramatic interpretative ability.

One would wish that Der Erlkonig,  amongst other songs, were rendered from memory as the moments of presence were broken by the ever so slight glance downwards at the scores (this applied to both singers). Her colours were sensitively shaded especially in the Seven Early Songs, revealing an intuitive understanding of these highly demanding songs that was more than just something innate.

Mr.Au's creamy and flexible colourful tenor lent itself well to the carefully selected repertoire, delivered precisely with carefully measured dynamics, hues and tones, no more and no less. His diction is crisp and it 'decorated' the vowels of the German, French and English art songs precisely and sufficiently. The long legatissimo lines of the well known perniciously difficult Morgen by Strauss was intelligently and yet maturedly understood and rendered, nearly bringing a tear drop down my cheek. I was reminded remotely of the young voice of the lyrical leggerio operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee during the second theme section and could not help comparing Mr. Au's still developing sensuous vocals with his.

The duets, especially the encore was entertaining as the singers broke into dance, with Mr. Au pantomiming some ballet routines with a certain ironic grace, competing with Miss Schramm-Kimura to see who was the sexier one between them. Go figure who won. Not the lady this time by the way.

The recital, A Little Bit of Magic, was indeed more than just a little magical. Generously lavished with a palette of mystical visual lights, a rich spectrum of vocal colours infused into the sung texts and an exquisite coffee-table photography set accompanying the beautifully printed poems, one couldn't really asked for more magic, could we?

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