Bond with Bach

There was a touch of irony that Masaaki Suzuki, founder of the highly regarded Bach Collegium Japan, led the Singapore Symphony Orchestra just a week after their three-night Bach Festival, but did not conduct any work of Johann Sebastian Bach.

He did, however, open the concert with the Sinfonia No.1 In D Major, H.633 by Carl Phillip Emanuel (C.P.E.) Bach, son of J.S. Bach.

A pioneer of the orchestral symphony, C.P.E. Bach employed techniques that greatly contrasted with his father's gallant style in his sinfonias, resulting in dramatic works with surprising harmonies.

Suzuki's conducting fully embodied this, with gutsy string playing that was exciting throughout, tarnished only by heavy basses.

More often than not, Suzuki conducts ensembles that perform on period instruments, but he and the SSO found a comfortable middle ground, with little vibrato, greater emphasis on bow stroke and very well-blended winds.



    Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Masaaki Suzuki - conductor, Masato Suzuki - organ

    Victoria Concert Hall/Last Friday

In a further twist on the father- son theme, Masato Suzuki joined his father as soloist on the Poulenc Organ Concerto. The pair have spent most of their musical lives performing J.S. Bach and other baroque repertoire, but one would never suspect it from this most convincing performance of Poulenc's 20th-century masterpiece for the organ.

Written for organ, strings and timpani, the concerto takes dramatic swings from grand organ solos to humorous, lyrical episodes, all of which the seasoned pairing of conductor and soloist navigated with ease. Masato created majestic sounds from the VCH organ, with impeccable timing and stirring pedal notes and was unflappable throughout.

Tempos could have been more adventurous and there were some distracting beats heard when a mix of partial stops were used in softer solo passages, but overall this was an excellent concerto, with fine solo organ playing, equalled by Christian Schioler on timpani and luscious string sound from the SSO.

Suzuki is increasingly called on to conduct Beethoven and his reading of the Symphony No. 2 showed just why. The even numbered symphonies of Beethoven are often thought of as the gentler, more lyrical of his symphonies, but Suzuki imparted energy and spirit which was perfectly calibrated to this symphony.

He led the SSO with precision through the multitude of dramatic sforzandos (sudden strong accents) that Beethoven sprinkled throughout the work, all the while creating the most polished orchestral sound yet heard in the VCH.

In the effervescent final movement, he directed a performance that was pristine yet still sizzled.

In recognition of his contribution, at one point the musicians declined his request to rise, insisting instead that the maestro receive the much-deserved applause.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Bond with Bach'. Print Edition | Subscribe