A Valentine’s Night at Ben’s

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A full house of lively concert-goers gathered at Ben’s recently to hear an evening of romantic songs and arias, performed by mezzo-soprano Manasanun Aksornteang and countertenor Jak (Potprecha) Cholvijarn with Morakot Cherdchoo-ngarm at the piano. 

The programme opened with Jak’s fine performance of Mozart’s aria Cara, lontana ancora from the little-known opera “Ascanio in Alba” a nymphs-and-shepherds romp by the fifteen-year-old Mozart and written to celebrate the wedding of Empress Maria Theresa’s son.  Jak gave an impressive performance of the technically demanding aria and his purity of tone and control of dynamics were noticeable from the start.  Even so, he seemed more at home in Monteverdi’s reflective aria Oblivion soave from the composer’s majestic opera “L’incoronazione di Poppea”.  It was a lovely performance and Jak’s controlled sotto voce singing of the opening recitative was compelling.

(From left) Jak Cholvijarn, Manasanun Aksornteang and Morakot Cherdchoo-ngarm pose for a photo at Ben’s Theatre. (Photo: Kittiphong ‘Ohm’ Klabprathum)(From left) Jak Cholvijarn, Manasanun Aksornteang and Morakot Cherdchoo-ngarm pose for a photo at Ben’s Theatre. (Photo: Kittiphong ‘Ohm’ Klabprathum)

He later sang Handel’s aria Domerò la tua fierezza which is the type of thing that Jak does so well, marked by clear articulation and excellent control of the tricky melodic leaps.  Jak, who has recently completed his Ph D studies, was educated in England and sang in Bristol Cathedral Choir as a choral scholar.  In Thailand, he has performed as soloist in operas by Thai composer Somtow Sucharitkul and given many concerts with Grand Opera (Thailand).

Manasanun Aksornteang (Angel) opened her programme with a lovely performance of Als Luise die Briefe, one of the comparatively few songs (as distinct from opera arias) by Mozart.  Angel has good stage presence and a fine singing voice with remarkably focussed tone quality and splendidly clear articulation.  But it was her assured and  moving performance of Debussy’s Nuit d’étoile (“Starry Night”) that showed Angel at her best, with spot-on intonation and excellent vocal control.

This was one of the many highlights of the evening and was followed by a lovely reading of the introspective Von ewiger Liebe (“Eternal Love”) by Johannes Brahms, an impressive performance which displayed Angel’s fine vocal skills.  She began singing lessons at the age of thirteen and during her studies has performed at numerous concerts, recitals and operas.  She was a prize winner at the Barry Alexander International Vocal Competition and is currently a part-time voice teacher at the College of Music, Mahidol University.

But perhaps the highlights in the first part of the programme were the duets.  Jak and Angel gave a lovely performance of Purcell’s timeless classic My dearest, my fairest in which their voices blended perfectly in the rich and expressive harmonies.  They also gave a superb reading of the duet To thee thou glorious son of worth from Handel’s 1750 oratorio “Theodora” in which both singers produced pure and focused tone quality with finely controlled dynamics and clear phrasing.

As usual, Jak and Angel were accompanied by the highly competent Morakot Cherdchoo-ngarm who started piano lessons at the age of six and went on to win several prestigious prizes for piano performance in both Thailand and Malaysia.  Morakot is also an experienced composer and in 2010 he received the Young Thai Artists Award.  Four years later he composed the music for Sita Dreams which combined the two epic stories of the Ramayana and Wagner’s The Ring.

Angel opened the second part of the concert with two of the best-known songs by Richard Strauss written in 1885 when the composer was twenty-one.  She gave a confident performence of Zueignung and her singing of the charming, nostalgic song Allerseelen was a delight with beautifully sensitive accompaniments from Morakot.

Jak Cholvijarn excelled himself in the first performance of Kyoto Dreams, a set of songs written for him by local composer Colin Kirkpatrick.  The songs are based on English translations of medieval Japanese poems and although the music is challenging, Jak gave a splendid and compelling reading of the work.  His intonation was secure and as always, his tone quality clear and focused.  The piano part makes many technical demands too but Morakot gave a confident, rhythmical and throughly musical performance.

The Purcell aria Strike the viol was sung by Jak with his usual quality of tone, vocal control and sense of musicianship while Angel’s performance of Schumann’s passionate Widmung (“Devotion”) drew much admiration from the audience and was yet another highlight of the evening.

The encore duet, Belle Nuit from Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” is probably the most famous barcarolle ever composed.  It was a huge success with the audience at Ben’s too and it made a satisfying conclusion to the concert given by the three fine young musicians.