The best of Bach

REVIEW / CONCERT

BACH FESTIVAL, NIGHT I
Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Walter Reiter - violin/conductor
Victoria Concert Hall/Last Friday

Three evenings of the music of J.S. Bach are the perfect vehicle for English-born period performance expert Walter Reiter to share his insight and formidable experience with the musicians.

Known worldwide as a baroque violinist, conductor and teacher, anyone who has heard performances of The English Concert or The Sixteen would have likely heard him as soloist or a principal.

The concert began with violins and violas standing in the Brandenburg Concert No. 3 and Reiter directing from the violin.

In spite of his being the only musician to perform with baroque bow and violin, he blended perfectly with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) musicians' modern instruments, and the crisper articulation and very judicious application of vibrato by all the strings was a refreshing treat.

The outer movements brimmed with energy, with the violas standing out in the third movement, and Reiter treated the audience to some delightful baroque ornamentation of the single bar, two note second movement.

He took on the role of conductor, albeit without baton, in the two orchestral suites that followed.

Directing a more substantial ensemble, the strings quickly adjusted to the beautifully judged agogic accents that he applied liberally to the music.

Suite No. 1 featured two oboes and bassoon, and Rachel Walker and Carolyn Hollier (oboes) and Liu Chang (bassoon) were outstanding in their extended trios in the Overture, with Liu providing rock-solid basso accompaniment to the oboes.

Many of the movements of the overtures are rooted in French dances and Reiter's deep understanding of the dances gave each one a unique character and lilt.

Suite No. 4 had three trumpets, drums (timpanis) and bassoon in addition to string and continuo (harpsichord).

The most famous Air On The G String was serenely performed in an understated manner that accentuated its true beauty, with sensitive support from Shane Thio on the harpsichord.

The outer movements saw Jon Dante and his classy trumpet section taking on the treacherous high trumpet parts with elegance.

This was proof, as if needed, that Bach's music nourishes the soul and uplifts the spirit.

Some resistance to the ideas of period performance practice could be sensed in the SSO's previous outings with period music experts.

This was not the case in this concert.

Judging from the enthusiastic audience response and the committed playing of the SSO musicians, this foray into full-blooded period performance was a great success and more should follow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'The best of Bach'. Print Edition | Subscribe