Soprano steals the show in weekend of baroque music

REVIEW / CONCERT

BAROQUE FESTIVAL

Stefan Kiessling (organ), Stefanie Quintin (soprano), Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Eudenice Palaruan and Sofi Jeannin (conductors)/

Victoria Concert Hall/

Friday, Saturday and Sunday

The first of these three concerts was devoted to the organ music of J.S. Bach. The Victoria Concert Hall Klais organ is very much in its element in Bach and everything sounded as if it was in its natural habitat. German organist Stefan Kiessling is similarly steeped in Bach and he injected a nice measure of vitality into both the G minor Fugue and the D minor Trio Sonata.

Neither organ nor organist seemed as much at ease with Bach's transcription of a Vivaldi violin concerto. The tuttis (those bits intended for orchestra) clunked and clicked along mechanically and when it came to the violin solo passages, Kiessling over-compensated for the Klais' lack of personality by doing such wayward things with the rhythm that it sounded more like a parody.

At the very end of Friday's concert, the Singapore Symphony Chorus flowed on to stage and sang Bach's brief motet Lobet Den Herrn. Eudenice Palaruan certainly got them to put a lot of bounce into this, but with three times more singers than was really appropriate. They sounded clumsy and swamped the chamber organ and cello (Wang Zi Hao) brought in as support but weirdly placed at opposite sides of the stage.

Since the motet was so short and nobody had thought to issue programmes or raise the house lights, once the choir walked off stage, 600 bemused audience members were left wondering if anything was going to happen next.

The second and third concerts abandoned North German baroque music in favour of English music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and here the SSO Chorus was much more in its element, with Swedish mezzo-soprano-turned-conductor, Sofi Jeannin, showing an instinctive feel for the two big Handel Coronation Anthems.

Jeannin seemed less sure-footed with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Handel's Fireworks Music. She kept it moving, but turned a blind eye to some ragged starts and finishes, and made no real attempt to shake the players out of their Sunday afternoon torpor. Lacking any sense of inner balance or outer shape, Jeannin's approach to Purcell's Chaconne revolved around continual waves of loud and soft, creating an uneasily nautical drift.

The saving grace of Sunday's concert and, indeed, the shining star of the entire festival, was British soprano Stefanie Quintin.

Enclosed with a sparkling but diminutive stature, Quintin possesses a voice of remarkable flexibility and a truly commanding musical presence. She enthralled the audience with a deliciously suppressed account of Ombra Mai Fu and reduced many to tears with an immensely moving Dido's Lament. She soared majestically in an infectiously joyous Rejoice Greatly.

In a weekend of varied performances, Quintin very much stole the show with her superb voice and endearing stage presence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2018, with the headline 'Soprano steals the show in weekend of baroque music'. Print Edition | Subscribe