When a B flat major is not played in B flat

The truly magnificent thing about globalisation is the ability to transplant cultures into foreign lands, even if for a brief 2 hours.

One of the most splendid treasures of Western classical music hark back to the Baroque era (16th-17th/18th century). I’m hardly a steadfast fan of Baroque music, but had grown more fond of it than as a teenager. Perhaps it is true that discernment only comes with the passing of time.

Last night’s concert – Handel with Care – showcased the Berlin-based group of fine Baroque specialists, Lautten Compagney. Baroque music-playing is a specialised art, particularly when it is dedicated to the art of performing on period instruments or its replicas. Baroque music performance thus requires a different set of skills. PL with her keen ears noted that the orchestra was a semi-tone flat. [Baroque instruments are typically tuned to A=415hz, as confirmed post-concert by the friendly bassoonist.]

The operas and oratorios of Handel and Purcell were brought to life through  re-arrangements for the 18-person orchestra, and peppered with bits of improvisations and music quotes.

The musicians performed on Baroque instruments – ranging from the lutes, violins, viola (sonorous!), cello, double bass, bassoon, oboe, recorders, organ and harpsichord. As PL says, it felt like we were transported into ancient times: the music evoked imaginery scenes of ladies with elaborate frocks, castles, the dances… and when the recorder player got into the action, I half expected mice to trail behind him a la Pied Piper style.

Both of us agreed that the playing was tight and were told that the instruments were made using the same type of strings. Or maybe it’s an indication that the musicians have been playing together for quite a while.

It was an evening of stimulating music – and Lautten Compagney made an occasional Baroque music listener like me feel that Baroque music is fresh and cool. One of my favourite moments was Purcell played by just 4 strings with the organ and then followed by the lutes and the cello. If there is any regret at all, it would be the one-third full music hall. What a pity. Even though Singapore’s art scene has been vibrant in recent years, this is truly a unique concert and I wished more people had the chance to watch it. Hope the company will be back soon!

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