BACH SONATAS & PARTITAS
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
30 May 2017)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 June 2017 with the title "A teacher's crystal-clear and resonant strings".
This year's Singapore Violin Festival could not have had a more star-studded presence than the eminent Japanese violinist Midori. She is a member of its 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. For the veteran artist that is Midori, playing seemed as natural and unaffected as breathing.
In this 75-minute-long recital without intermission, Midori performed the First and Third Sonatas and Second Partita. The Sonatas each have 4 movements, alternating 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 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 in a gradual and incremental manner, arriving later at a resounding and stately high. The fugues were marvels in counterpoint, the voices laid on in sonorous layers with a progressively 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 and volume and intensity.
The third movements provided quiet respite, before the unleashing of torrents in the perpetual motions that constituted the finales. These are probably the most technically difficult of pieces before the advent of Paganini's 24 Caprices. Midori handled these with consummate ease and artistry without as much as raising a sweat.
Partita No.2 in D minor (BWV.1004) was the most familiar, with its 5 movements conceived as dance pieces. Midori was to bring 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 upon a series of short variations represented the crowning glory of the set. Its series of climaxes were plangently built it, 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 15 and 16 June at The Arts House, performed by Kam Ning and Loh Jun Hong.