Concert life as we know it has not resumed in Singapore. There have been several chamber concerts performed in front of strictly-controlled live audiences of not more than 50 persons, but the majority of performing groups continue to rely on digital concerts streamed online for paying internet viewers. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra has not been an exception.

Darrell Ang conducts the Singapore Symphony Orchestra © Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Darrell Ang conducts the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
© Singapore Symphony Orchestra

In the first of a series of concerts celebrating Johann Sebastian Bach, familiar fare was served. The Singapore Symphony has never been a period instrument group and does not pretend to be one. Although it has been led by specialists including Christopher Hogwood, Masaaki Suzuki and Bruno Weil, it still performs Baroque music with mostly modern sensibilities on modern instruments. This, however, has not troubled listeners in Singapore as the period performance movement here is still in its infancy, and possibly a paucity of purists and pedants. 

In the Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 for strings and harpsichord continuo, some vibrato was not spared and the result was bright and sonorous from three violins, three violas, three cellos and bass. Ensemble was kept taut by conductor Darrell Ang (now making a name as a conductor of Romantic and 20th-century repertoire on the Naxos label), in the opening movement and fugal finale. The super-brief central Adagio, usually a single cadence heralding the finale, was given a short improvisational flourish by harpsichordist Shane Thio. 

Darrell Ang conducts the Singapore Symphony Orchestra © Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Darrell Ang conducts the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
© Singapore Symphony Orchestra

The company of two oboes and a bassoon was added to the Orchestra Suite no. 1 in C major, a relatively unfamiliar work in these parts. Bach's four Orchestral Suites are sometimes referred to as Ouvertures, owing largely to the opening movements which are written in the form of a French overture. This comprises a slow introduction in dotted rhythm followed by a faster fugal main section. Again, a tight ensemble characterised the overture of this suite, with the woodwinds distinguishing themselves in the busy fugue. The six dance movements that followed kept up a lively presence which made this performance an enjoyable one.

The ensemble got progressively larger with the addition of three trumpets and timpani for the well-known Orchestral Suite no. 3 in D major. This made for a weightier and more celebratory orchestral sound for its pompous Overture and outer dance movements. Despite the grandiloquence, special place goes to the second movement’s Air (Air on G String as some people know it). Instead of just a single violin’s song, the famous melody was shared by three violins (Kong Zhao Hui, Karen Tan and Cindy Lee) and played straight and without sentimentality. When one pays attention to the accompaniment and continuo, its influence on Procol Harum’s hit song A Whiter Shade of Pale becomes all the more apparent.  That was the suite’s only calm refuge as the top brass returned for the Gavottes, Bourée and Gigue, which closed the concert on a euphonious high. Further Baroque programmes are keenly awaited.


This performance was reviewed from the Sistic video stream

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