Bach's life-affirming music for troubled times

Violinists Alan Choo (third from far left) and Gabriel Lee (far right), with cellist Leslie Tan and harpsichordist Mervyn Lee in Bach's Trio Sonata In D Minor in a concert by Red Dot Baroque, Singapore's only professional period instrument ensemble.
Violinists Alan Choo (third from far left) and Gabriel Lee (far right), with cellist Leslie Tan and harpsichordist Mervyn Lee in Bach's Trio Sonata In D Minor in a concert by Red Dot Baroque, Singapore's only professional period instrument ensemble.PHOTO: REDDOTBAROQUE/ FACEBOOK

Musical groups in Singapore are slowly but surely getting a grip on the Covid-19 pandemic, with more online concerts being released on the Internet in lieu of live concerts.

The latest was by Red Dot Baroque, Singapore's only professional period instrument ensemble, with Bach Beats Corona.

The catchy title was borrowed from the ongoing worldwide movement performing Johann Sebastian Bach's life-affirming music in these troubled times. The group's founder and lead violinist Alan Choo played host by introducing the works, each performed by one to four players, all socially distanced and masked.

The concert opened with the Trio Sonata In G major (BWV 1039) for two flutes, viola da gamba and harpsichord. A delightful work which contains exactly the same music as the Viola Da Gamba Sonata No. 1 (BWV 1027), its four movements alternated between a song-like countenance and contrapuntal busyness. Cheryl Lim and Rachel Ho on traverso flutes (baroque flutes) revelled in their starring roles, partnered by Mervyn Lee (gamba) and Gerald Lim (keyboard).

Each work was prefaced by a short movement in the same key from Bach's Cello Suites, performed on baroque cello by Leslie Tan (from the T'ang Quartet).

This included the familiar Prelude In G, Sarabande In C Minor and Allemande In D Major, all being movements possessed with a meditative quality. The last was played on a five-stringed cello, producing a deep and long-breathed sonority.

The Violin Sonata No. 4 In C Minor (BWV 1017) is probably Bach's best known accompanied violin sonata.

If its first movement sounded familiar, that was because it used the same theme as the hauntingly beautiful aria Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott (Have Mercy, My God) from Saint Matthew Passion.

The instruments may be different, but the doleful spirit of contrition remained. Violinist Brenda Koh gave a sensitive reading, accompanied on obbligato harpsichord by Lee, a former child prodigy known as a polymath in all things baroque.

To illustrate Bach's great sense of variety, the works chosen displayed a wealth of nuances and responses.

For example, there was a highly dramatic and almost improvisatory prelude that opened the Violin Sonata In E Minor (BWV 1023), very unlike the other works. Violinist Placida Ho handled its surprising exuberance brilliantly, then keeping up the same exalted level in later movements. Here she was partnered by cellist Tan and harpsichordist Lim.

  • REVIEW / CONCERT

  • BACH BEATS CORONA

    Red Dot Baroque

    Streamed on Sistic Live

    Sept 6

The 70-minute programme concluded with Trio Sonata In D Minor (BWV 527) with violinists Choo and Gabriel Lee, backed by Tan and Lee on continuo.

Originally conceived as an organ sonata, its three movement schema resembled the concerto form pioneered by the Italians, which Bach was undoubtedly familiar with. The duo voices of both soloists came through clearly in a spirited reading which could be described as a joyful romp.


• This concert is available to view on www.sistic.com.sg on a pay-as-you-please basis till Oct 6.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2020, with the headline 'Bach's life-affirming music for troubled times'. Print Edition | Subscribe