SIRENS are one of the most beautiful yet treacherous creatures in Greek mythology. Their hauntingly beautiful voices ring out at sea, luring unwitting sailors to rocky coasts and certain death.
But in male chorus Chanticleer’s concert on Wednesday night, titled The Siren’s Call, there was no sign of any rockiness or deceit – only crisp, clear singing in unbelievably versatile voices throughout.
The evening kicked off with some renaissance pieces, the style that Chanticleer was founded on 35 years ago, and it did well to show off the group’s steady grasp of classical techniques. For instance, they displayed astounding skill in blending the intertwining melodies of Gabrieli’s Quand’havra fine amore as well as the rich harmonies of Palestrina’s Ave maris stella.
Also, their take on Gesualdo’s O dolorosa gioia and Gombert’s En douleur et tristesse, showed masterful control over the dissonant harmonies, which filled the Esplanade Concert Hall with an air of melancholy.
Such was Chanticleer’s skill that not only did they perform each piece’s technical complexities with great dexterity, but they also managed to inject emotion into every note such that the songs stay with you even after you’ve left the theatre.
One particularly memorable piece was their heart-tugging rendition of Canticum calamitatis maritimae, a tribute to the 1994 MS Estonia shipwreck, performed just before intermission. The piece starts off with a lone voice singing forlornly, while another member of the chorus recites an actual news broadcast of the shipwreck’s events, which sounds eerily like a whispered prayer. The rest of the chorus then joins in for a build-up to a thunderous climax redolent of a storm at sea, before dying down into the same haunting solo the song began with.
In the second half, the group goes into a much lighter mood, taking on a wider range of songs from the enthralling L’Invitation au Voyage by John Carigliano to the traditional Japanese folksong, Sohran Bushi, arranged by Osamu Shimizu.
Even then, not all of them would appeal to the masses – Chinese-American Chen Yi’s special creation for Chanticleer’s 35th Anniversary, titled I Hear the Siren’s Call, is a bit of an acquired taste with notes that slide up and down very quickly in a rather piercing, Chinese-like tune. But if anything, it certainly speaks of the skill of the chorus, who managed to wrangle their way through those tricky notes without faltering once.
Still, like every other song Chanticleer performed, it was met with thunderous applause, as they weaved in and out of the different styles effortlessly. But the loudest applause was reserved for their final song, a jazzy, sensual arrangement of Tom Waits’ Temptation that took the audience’s breath away.
A tiny gripe is that the group could really afford to loosen up a little during the more contemporary songs – their rigid bodies were a sharp contrast to the upbeat tunes they were singing. But judging from the tireless applause at the end of the show, the audience didn’t seem to mind. By the time of their encore performance – a pitch-perfect Somebody to Love by Queen – was met with rapturous applause, it was clear that the audience wanted even more.
Go with the flow: Chanticleer’s The Siren’s Call was devoid of any mythological deceit – only crisp singing in unbelievably versatile voices.