Notes and Editorial Reviews
This album comes with 3 audio CDs plus a CD-ROM containing an analysis, illustrations, a timeline and an interview with Philippe Herreweghe. Subtitles are provided.
The advent of period instrument ensembles, though certainly speeding up the tempos a bit, has done nothing to change the three basic interpretive approaches to the St. Matthew Passion: the dramatic, the reverent, and Klemperer's. Gardiner's Archiv recording best represents the dramatic approach, with razor sharp accents and an operatic gusto to the Evangelist's story telling. Klemperer stands alone, a performance at once monumental, terrifyingly grim, and unsentimental--it's a once-in-a-lifetime event that seems to take
about a lifetime to listen to. The first chorus alone lasts practically as long as Passion Week. Reverent or devotional performances were once the common currency of the old German school of the 19th century. Then, they were hushed and slowish. Now, they're hushed and quickish, and the best of these was Herreweghe's first recording from 1985, the most purely beautiful performance of this great work on disc, and a magnificent reinterpretation of a great performance tradition in "authentic instrument" terms.
Given the epic nature of the work itself and the challenges that it represents, it's only fair to ask if Harmonia Mundi was justified, 15 years later, in allowing Herreweghe to re-record the St. Matthew Passion--a privilege accorded few other conductors in a lifetime (Karl Richter was one). The answer, on hearing this new version, must be "Yes." Without sacrificing any of his signature lovely instrumental timbres and choral textures, Herreweghe has moved his interpretation significantly in the "dramatic" direction, and has managed to a remarkable degree to get the best of both worlds. For example, the opening chorus features the same soaring arches of tone, but the chorus now articulates the words more clearly, and the "questions and answer" exchanges between the two choirs are more emphatic, more urgently expressive. His soloists this time around are also a noticeable improvement, particularly countertenor Andreas Scholl, whose technique leaves the earlier version's René Jacobs in the shade.
Ian Bostridge declaims the Evangelist's words with the phrasing and intensity of a really good story teller, while Franz-Josef Selig's Jesus manages to be at once calmly spiritual and textually enlightened, a major achievement in a role that doesn't offer much in the way of contrast. All of the other singers really are as good or better than the competition, with special mention going to Sibylla Rubens, whose soprano arias bring a welcome ray of sunshine into what is, after all, a predominantly dark work. The real hero of this particular tale, though, remains Herreweghe, who has seized the opportunity to reinterpret this great piece in a genuinely vital and meaningful way. It's true that the differences between his two versions might be small--a few seconds here or there in any given number, a slight change of accent or emphasis in a vocal or instrumental line--but over the course of three hours these things matter. In sum, Herreweghe now offers greater emphasis on the meaning of the text through careful word-painting and a more focused vocal and instrumental sound, while maintaining his trademark sonic purity and warmth. This is not easy music, whether to play or to hear, and a performance needs to be special to justify a three-hour-plus investment of time and attention. If Herreweghe's first recording did so by virtue of its sheer loveliness, this newcomer adds a couple of even more compelling elements: emotional immediacy and expressive intensity. Happy Anniversary, J.S.B.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Franz-Joseph Selig (Bass),
Sibylla Rubens (Soprano),
Ian Bostridge (Tenor),
Werner Güra (Tenor),
Dietrich Henschel (Tenor),
Andreas Scholl (Countertenor)
Ghent Collegium Vocale,
Ghent Collegium Vocale Orchestra,
Cantate Domino Chorus
Written: Circa 1727; Leipzig, Germany
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