Pablo Tariman in last Monday's Inquirer couldn't have said it better.
“There are singers and singers, but only a few have a gift for interpretation that goes beyond what the text and music signify.”
The object of his admiration was Berlin-based Filipino baritone Jonathan Zaens, “a singer of the uncommon kind,” who has just released a “stunning” CD called Kundiman—Philippine Art Songs.
“Produced by Sundro Keller and recorded in St. Paulus Germende Grosser Saal in Berlin, the CD features kundiman compositions of Nicanor Abelardo, Francisco Santiago, Mike Velarde Jr. and Resurreccion Bunyi... [Zaens] is superbly accompanied by pianist Abelardo Galang II, also based in Berlin,” wrote Mr. Tariman.
“The bass baritone has a way with words and phrases that blend with the music to magnificent results. The arrangement of Cayabyab has given the kundiman a new life and a contemporary feel. Still, the lyrics and the music find an astounding interpretation in the vocal gift of Zaens.”
“From Velarde’s 'Habang Buhay' (with guitar accompaniment by Chris Borela) to Santiago’s 'Cancion Filipina' (arranged by Eudenice Palaruan and with distinguished piano accompaniment by Galang), Zaens brings back to life a treasure trove of now nearly forgotten Philippine art songs...”
The CD's liner notes include this explanation by Mr. Galang II that helps us listen to the kundiman with new ears: “Kundiman is an art song that embodies love and tenderness, bitterness and heartbreak. The word kundiman is a contraction of the phrase "kung hindi man," meaning, “should it not be so.” In other words, should the lover find his love unrequited, he must resign himself to his fate and would rather die. The kundiman is usually written in triple time with two sections: the first part in a minor key with a rather calm, sweet and tender mood, the second part in a tonic major with a more dramatic spirit, bursting into a climax with which the piece culminates.”
And who is Jonathan Zaens?
“A prizewinner of the 7th Sylvia Geszty International Voice Competition, Zaens is also a finalist at the Bach International Competition and the Mendelssohn Voice Competition,” explained Mr. Tariman. “After finishing his studies in Voice/Music Theater at the University of the Arts in Berlin, he was heard at the Prague State Opera singing the Mozart roles of Leporello and Guglielmo on top of guest appearances in the Berliner Chamber Opera and other opera houses in Germany.”
Mr. Zaens was in Manila last month for a concert called “Virtuosos 2008” at the CCP, where he performed with fellow classical artists--soprano Camille Lopez Molina, mezzo soprano Clarissa Ocampo, tenors Nolyn Cabahug and Randy Gilongo, countertenor Mark Anthony Carpio, the Philippine Madrigal Singers, visiting French bass baritone Jerome Correas, and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.
Because the concert was held on a Friday night, our heaviest time at work, there was no way I could watch the show. Mr. Zaens would hold a smaller recital a few days later, and still I failed to make it. It was a big letdown; I had heard from friends how good he was in “Virtuosos.” They were high not only on Mr. Zaens' sublime singing, but also on the fact that he was very good-looking and charismatic on stage. “The Piolo Pascual of classical music” was the verdict of no less than that one-man entertainment conglomerate, Floy Quintos.
My one consolation: Mr. Zaens' brother Chris is a friend, and he gave me a copy of the CD. I'd like to share with you the first three tracks of the album (all by Nicanor Abelardo, and all arranged by Ryan Cayabyab), because “The first three songs... are key to the still largely unheralded vocal artistry of Zaens,” wrote Mr. Tariman.
Sorry, they're not downloadable (copyright restrictions), but do enjoy listening to them here. “By far, the CD is one of the best recordings of Filipino songs ever to come out and definitely one of the best interpretations you can find in the dry landscape of recorded Filipino music,” concludes Mr. Tariman.
Thank you for the CD, Chris. And “Bravo!,” Jonathan Zaens.