Asian pop: Rebel to the right

Rapper Witness Huang goes against hip-hop stereotype with songs about fidelity.

Nine years after his self-titled debut, American-Chinese rapper Witness Huang returns to a warm welcome from the Taiwanese hip-hop fraternity.

On the opening track, MC HotDog guests and Huang boasts: "My music's going to make everyone high/I'm about to fly/So celebrate my return."

Some of the tracks here deal with personal history. The Wanderer Returns is about him finding peace in religion, while Everything's Gonna Be Alright is "about a Taiwanese kid who grew up in Texas".

There is a sense that this album is about bearing witness to his personal transformation after having been through some tough times. My One And Only is a statement of fidelity from someone who has turned over a new leaf: "But now, I'm after stability/No more mixing alcohol/Just give the all-new Witness, only want just you."

Stability? Fidelity? He is certainly rebelling against the worst of rap's stereotypes.

Classical

MOZART PIANO CONCERTOS NO. 19 & 23

Helene Grimaud, Piano Bavarian
Radio Chamber Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon
477 9849
****½

Mozart's piano concertos can be said to be an ultimate form of chamber music, one in which the virtuosic solo keyboard part is so well integrated with the orchestra that the two become inseparable.

This is the spirit in which French pianist Helene Grimaud takes on two of Mozart's happiest creations in this genre. The F major concerto (No. 19) is ebullient as the A major concerto (No. 23) is lyrical, with Grimaud's crisply articulated playing and singing tone the common pleasure. Her understated virtuosity serves the music, even if the choice of Busoni's cadenza for No. 23 (also used by Horowitz) is an unexpected gambit.

Inserted between the concertos is the concert aria Chio Mi Scordi Di Te? (I Forget You?), comprising a recitative and rondo from a revision of the opera Idomeneo, with soprano Mojca Erdmann. The piano obbligato part comes like a surprise, but acts as an extra voice that comments on the sentiments the singer expresses.

The accompanying DVD includes a video of the lilting Adagio from Piano Concerto No. 23 with photographic stills of trees by Mat Hennek, a pleasant but not essential part of a well-conceived and smartly packaged album. 

Obscure classics

CONCERTI CURIOSI

Charivari Agreable/Kah-Ming Ng
Signum Classics SIGCD249
*****

The baroque concerto was popularised by Antonio Vivaldi, who composed more than such 500 examples, including The Four Seasons. This recording delights in the lesser lights of an art form that later gave way to the classical concerto exemplified by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Whoever thought that A Favourite Concerto of 1768 for harpsichord by Pietro Paradies (1709-1791), so named in order to boost its popularity, would be virtually forgotten today?

It is an enjoyable 12 minutes, longer than the other concertos in this collection, including two cornet concertos by Johan Berlin and Pietro Baldassari.

The instrument more associated today with marching bands has a mellower and softer sonority than the mighty trumpet. Johan Hertel's Trumpet Concerto No. 3 (with soloist Simon Desbruslais) is probably the least obscure work here.

Johann Pepusch's Concerto For 4 Violins deserves more attention, as does Anton Reichenauer's Oboe Concerto, which is comparable with the best of Albinoni's better known concertos.

Reviving the fortunes of these is the Oxford-based period performance group Charivari Agreable (translated as "Pleasant Tumult"), led on harpsichord by Petaling Jaya native Ng Kah-Ming.

The spirited and exemplary performances make one crave for more of the same.

This article was published on May 8 in The Straits Times.

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