While this author has no illusions of being a music 'critic' of any significance, the two hours I spent at the Lionel Wendt last Friday compelled me to put my 'pen to paper' (fingers to keyboard is more accurate these days I suppose!). In this day and age where music and musicians are governed by what technology can do to aid their performance, it was refreshing to see nothing on stage for the entire first half, except a singer, a pianist and a piano! A reminder that sometimes, that's all you need.
The singer is easily one of the finest baritones in Sri Lanka today. Accomplished, experienced and endowed with a voice that is completely at odds with his stature! Moving easily between full blooded notes that filled the auditorium to the soft and subtle with devastating control.
The pianist – again, easily one of the finest pianists in Sri Lanka today. Accomplished, experienced and endowed with the ability to make any piano sing! Fingers easily moving along the keyboard to bring out the most enthralling accompaniment any single instrument possibly could.
Together, (along with the piano of course) they provided the audience with a bouquet of music that left the audience in complete awe. Knowing each of their individual abilities in advance made the night even more enjoyable, as together they formed a near-perfect combination of lead and accompanist that made the music reach even greater heights than once thought possible. Music from composers as diverse as Mozart (Se Voul Ballare), Donizetti (Bella Siccome), Handel (Where'er You Walk) to Richard Rodgers (If I Loved You) and Stephan Adams (Thora) came alive with a striking resonance. Piano and voice blended to near perfection.
Rohan de Lanerolle is definitely a rare commodity for us, in a musically starved country. A smooth and somewhat lyrical baritone, he embodies his musical background, a training enhanced by some of the greatest teachers and exponents of vocal/choral music that we have been privileged to experience. For the unfamiliar, I refer of course to the late Kalasuri (Uncle) Lylie Godridge, and Russell Bartholomeusz. One can only hope that like his teachers before him, Rohan will in time, himself leave behind a legacy, in the form of numerous students to whom he has imparted the wealth of knowledge and musical ability that he has so obviously acquired through the years.
And then there was The Revelations, a group that has been in the news of late with their own performances. A cameo appearance to say the least that provided excellent variety to the first half of the show. A few popular numbers in very tight and balanced harmony, sung accapella. Keep an eye out folks, if you've not heard them in action yet, make a definite date at the theatre next time.
One of the definite highlights of the show for me was the 'surprise' that popped up in the form of the younger De Lanerolle. With a voice that defies his seemingly demure and soft spoken nature, Ishan posses an equally rare voice quality, with plenty of depth, a genuine bass. His rendition of Jerome Kern's Old Man River, a veritable anthem for the genre of music, sung usually by the 'big bass', usually an African American, left the audience applauding for a long while. When is your solo concert, Ishan?
Much has been written and said about the exploits of Soundarie David and Soul Sounds who featured prominently in the second half, so there is probably very little that I can add. But still, one needs to acknowledge the fact that they have indeed taken choral music in this country to another level.
Their dedication and professionalism is obvious in the music they perform.
Voices and harmonies blending beautifully, they enthralled with renditions of popular numbers in a Doo Whop Medley, and slightly 'jazzed up' version of Thy Word and The Keys to the Vaults of Heaven, which they teamed up with Rohan. Possibly the most rousing number was again a joint effort between them, the perennial Christian anthem, Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Keys changing seamlessly to accommodate the soprano and baritone ranges, the hymn was the obvious choice for the encore.
The second half though, saw the introduction of the microphones, which to an extent did not do the singers justice. While I have nothing against them, using them is an art in itself, both for the singer and for the technician who controls them. And it was possibly Soul Sounds that suffered the most, as the microphones tended to pick up some individual voices better than others. Surely though, for a choir that good at the Lionel Wendt (Best acoustics in town!) microphones are not really required?
One must also mention the 'other' accompanists for the evening, Niranjan de Silva on the keyboards and Christo Prins on Drums. Regular features with Soul Sounds and many other performers; they are undoubtedly the musicians of choice for many a singer or choir. Understandably so, as they bring about another musical dimension to any performance.
Rohan, is obviously an entertainer, encouraging his audience to sing along to some old familiar tunes (The Last Waltz, There Goes My Everything and I Can't Stop Loving You), and handling some awkward situations on stage without batting an eyelid! He seemed to take some pleasure though in holding on to some of his final notes, demonstrating excellent control and leaving the girls rather 'breathless' trying to keep up! Although it was a fairly clichéd ending, with the omnipresent classic My Way!
Most critics would end with any form of criticism they could come up with, to ensure that the piece seems 'balanced' and 'impartial'. But I'm not 'most critics', so why not just tell it as it is? Rohan and Soundarie; thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable musical evening.