An Evening of Classic Love Songs at Ben’s Theater Jomtien

(l-r) Manasanun (Angel) Aksornteang; Morakot Cherdchoo-ngarm and Potprecha (Jak) Cholvijarn.

An enthusiastic audience welcomed three young Bangkok musicians recently at Ben’s Theater. The enthusiasm was not surprising, because they have all performed at Ben’s in the past. I have lost count of the number of times counter-tenor Potprecha (Jak) Cholvijarn has performed there, accompanied by the ever-reliable pianist Morakot Cherdchoo-ngarm. Recently they were joined by soprano Manasanun (Angel) Aksornteang (soprano) who has appeared three times previously.

Their programme covered a wide range of styles from the music of Handel to composers of the present day. Jak Cholvijarn was in fine form to kick off the concert with a powerful performance of Mozart’s aria Al mio ben mi veggio avanti from the little-known opera Ascanio in Alba composed when Mozart was only fifteen. Jak gave a dramatic performance of the aria which contrasted well with Debussy’s lyrical Nuit d’étoile. As well as solo songs, the programme also contained a few duets, the first of which was the aria Bist du bei mir by the baroque composer Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel. Although his music is rarely heard today he was well-known in his time and a contemporary of J. S. Bach. This aria has become well-known and Jak and Angel gave a splendid performance with perfect intonation and well-blended voices. The pianissimo sections were especially beautiful.

One of the musical highlights of the evening, at least for me, was the group of four songs by Robert Schumann, Frauenliebe und Leben which Angel sang superbly. The songs are quiet and reflective and Angel brought out these qualities with her beautifully controlled voice in which her tone quality, vibrato and intonation were excellent. Her stage presence helped a lot too, for she always looks confident and natural. Pianist Morakot was especially effective in these Schumann songs and provided a sensitive and carefully phrased performance. I am always impressed with Morakot’s ability to switch from one musical style to another so effortlessly and he is superb at the specialist skill of accompanying.

Jak returned to the stage for two contrasting songs, Franz Schubert’s An den mond, a setting of Goethe’s poem of the same name. Jak provided a thoughtful performance of this lyrical song and it was contrasted with a dramatic performance of Henri Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage. With words by Charles Baudelaire it’s one of Duparc’s most memorable songs and Jak brought out the drama of the words. I was also impressed with his excellent vocal tone. Jak & Angel concluded the first half of the concert with another duet, the well-known setting of Panis Angelicus by César Franck, possibly the composer’s most famous work. Their singing was lovely, with beautifully blended voices.

Angel holds a Master’s Degree in voice performance gained at the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, Chulalongkorn University and she completed her Bachelor Degree at the College of Music, Mahidol University. She has studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna and recently become a faculty member of Voice Department at the College of Music, Mahidol University.

In 2019, Jak completed his Doctorate Degree in Buddhist studies from the UK’s University of Bristol. He has performed as a soloist for Opera Siam (Bangkok Opera), Siam Philharmonic and Siam Sinfonietta on numerous occasions. Composer Somtow Sucharitkul cast him as the Buddha in six episodes of his music drama Ten Lives of the Buddha. Jak went on the European tour of The Silent Prince performing the title role at Bayreuth, Prague and Brno. With Grand Opera Thailand, Jak sang in concerts for The European Union Delegation, as well as many embassies in Bangkok.

Morakot is not only a splendid and reliable accompanist but also a composer and arranger. He was commissioned to compose the music for 100th anniversary of the distinguished Thai artist Fua Haripitak and for several other prestigious events. His compositions have been performed in festivals in Singapore and Peru as well as the Thailand Flute Festival, Thailand Brass and Percussion Conference, Thailand International Composition Festival and the Thailand International Wind Symphony Competition.

After the interval, Jak opened the second half with one of John Dowland’s most famous songs, Come again, sweet love doth now invite. It’s written in the composer’s typical melancholy style and first appeared in the Dowland’s First Booke of Songs of 1597. Jak has sung this lovely song many times and to me his voice seems just right for Dowland’s bitter-sweet music. Angel gave an impassioned performance of Hugo Wolf’s song Verborgenheit. It comes from a set of about fifty songs collectively entitled Morike-Lieder, which cemented Wolf’s recognition in Austria as a voice composer. Angel gave an impressive performance with clear diction and spot-on intonation throughout. She then sang Morakot’s charming song, Wine comes in at the mouth, an attractive setting of the verse by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats which Angel performed with style.

Jak then sang the five songs entitled Kyoto Dreams which were composed for him several years ago. He gave a thoughtful performance which reflected the melancholy nature of the words. In contrast, Angel sang the lively Taylor the Latte Boy, a song by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, evidently based on their experience with a coffee boy at Starbucks. Jak sang the lovely old Scottish song known as The Skye Boat Song with his usual care and Angel gave an accurate, if rather polite performance of Wouldn’t it be loverly from the musical My Fair Lady.

The concert ended with a baroque aria, a style which seems to suit both singers best. It was the aria Streams of pleasure from Handel’s much-admired dramatic oratorio of 1750, Theodora. Jak and Angel provided a spirited performance, with superb vocal blending and assured singing in the contrapuntal sections. It made an appropriate and inspiring ending to a delightful evening.