Philippe Herreweghe is widely considered to be one of the foremost Bach interpreters of our time. This four deluxe CD-Book collection is part of the Philippe herreweghe Bach Edition, and features key works from the Bach canon. Each set in the series is available at a very special low price and features packaging and liner-notes on a par with the best that harmonia mundi offers. These sets are a rare bargain and a must-have for collectors…
Philippe Herreweghe uses the second of Bach's four versions of the St. John Passion, the one from 1725, which substitutes some of the arias and the opening chorus, along with lesser changes. The result is somewhat more dramatic than the standard version, which Herreweghe recorded previously. Those familiar with the conductor's work will find his usual warmth, making the most of the lyric moments, but they'll also find greater sensitivity to rhythmic and dramatic thrust and a generally livelier approach. The singers are uniformly fine. Padmore is an unusually effective Evangelist, projecting the drama without undue overacting. Many will want this for Andreas Scholl's countertenor solos, which are first-rate, but the magnificent "Es ist vollbracht" will disappoint those familiar with the greater depth of renditions by contraltos like Maureen Forrester and Janet Baker. Bright-voiced soprano Sibylla Rubens is another attraction, singing with fervor, and the orchestra and chorus of the Collegium Vocale Ghent are outstanding. This attractively packaged set goes to the head of the class. –Dan Davis
Johann Sebastian Bach's monumental St. Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday in 1727 at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. It is the largest single composition Bach ever wrote, both in terms of length and in terms of instrumental and vocal forces. It requires two choruses, two orchestras, four vocal soloists for the arias and vocal soloists for each of the various character parts. Philippe Herreweghe's 1999 recording of Bach's masterpiece features a stellar cast and was a perennial catalog bestseller.
For the second time on the Phi label, Philippe Herreweghe presents four Bach cantatas written during the first year the composer spent in Leipzig. In relation to the repertoire composed in Weimar, the instrumentarium is enlarged to adapt to the size of the churches of Saint Thomas and Saint Nicholas. But, above all, the instrumental virtuosity is much greater, as are the vocal demands confronting the choirs and solo singers, trained at the time by Bach himself.
The first thing to note is that this is the 1725 revision of Bach's St. John Passion, not the original 1724 version that is usually performed. This will become immediately apparent to those familiar with the score, as the opening chorus is entirely different in the later revision. Bach substitutes a few of the arias, too, and commentators seem in agreement that this later edition is in fact more incisively dramatic. Philippe Herreweghe has already made a superb recording of the original version, but here the conductor assembles an even finer group of singers for this newer account. Mark Padmore is a marvelously expressive, sweet-toned Evangelist. Sibylla Rubens's agile soprano voice is a joy to the ear. Sebastian Noack's bass seems light at first, but his bright, lyrical sound contrasts effectively with the deeper, more sonorous tone of Michael Volle's Jesus. Countertenor Andreas Scholl, a favorite collaborator of Herreweghe's, is simply stunning. (Andrew Farach-Colton)
Philippe Herreweghe's Bach performances are like no others: spiritual and deeply felt, but also scholarly, and thoroughly thought-through. They sound collaborative, with the vocal soloists given plenty of liberty, but they also give the impression that there is a singular will shaping the performance into a unified and wholly individualistic reading. Even the tone of the period instruments is subtly different: warm yet pungent, colorful yet blended, sometimes sweet, but more often tart. Listeners familiar with the Bach of Gardiner or Harnoncourt may at first be challenged by Herreweghe's approach, but the power of his performances may win them over. In this 1998 Harmonia Mundi recording of the "Matthäus-Passion," tenor Ian Bostridge's account of the central role of the Evangelist is slightly to the left of center, more emotionally expressive, and more rhythmically pliable than most, but Herreweghe's interpretation can easily accommodate him. (James Leonard)