REVIEW / CONCERT
BACH SONATAS & PARTITAS
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
This year's Singapore Violin Festival could not have had a more star-studded presence than the eminent Japanese violinist Midori Goto, who performs under the name Midori.
She is a member of the festival's faculty of teachers and what better way of showing, telling and inspiring younger violinists than by performing a full-length concert?
The six unaccompanied Violin Sonatas and Partitas of Johann Sebastian Bach are arguably the greatest solo violin music ever composed. This music is as pure as it is utterly exposed, a formidable challenge of expression and interpretation for the performer. But it did not pose a problem for a veteran like Midori, whose playing was natural and unaffected.
In this 75-minute-long recital without intermission, she performed the First and Third Sonatas and Second Partita. The Sonatas each have four movements, alternating between slow and fast, including a fugue as the second movement. The Partita is a suite comprising wholly antique dance movements.
From the outset, one was struck by how Midori did not regard these merely as virtuoso showpieces for pure technical display. In the opening Adagio of Sonata No. 1 In G Minor (BWV.1001), she created a cushioned and intimate sound, the voice of which was crystal clear and resonant, bolstered by perfect intonation.
In the corresponding movement of Sonata No. 3 In C Major (BWV.1005), a simple two-note motif was built up incrementally to reach a resounding and stately high. The fugues were marvels in counterpoint, the voices laid on in sonorous layers with a progressive deepening of textures. There was no murkiness, even when multiple-stopping (voicing more than one note at a given instance) in the relentless Fugue of the Third Sonata meant the playing reached an orchestra-like volume and intensity.
The third movements provided quiet respite before the unleashing of torrents in the perpetual motions that constituted the finales. Midori handled these technically difficult pieces with consummate ease and artistry.
Partita No. 2 In D Minor (BWV.1004) was the most familiar, with its five movements conceived as dance pieces. Midori gave different colours and spirit to each, with expressive qualities brought to the fore. There was a spring to the step of the Corrente and Giga, and the rapt meditation of the slow Sarabande in between seemed to radiate like a spiritual centre.
To close, the Chaconne, built on a series of short variations, represented the crowning glory of the set. Its series of climaxes were plangently built, but nothing could have felt more noble than Midori's understated and unshowy ending. There were four curtain calls and an encore - the mercurial Preludio from Partita No. 3 In E Major (BWV.1006), which brought down the house.
For those who missed this treat, all six Bach Sonatas and Partitas can be heard on June 15 and 16 at The Arts House, performed by Kam Ning and Loh Jun Hong.