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Bach: Oratorios / Herreweghe, Collegium Vocale Gent

Bach / Collegium Vocale / Herreweghe
Release Date: 05/11/2010 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 5908354  
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Peter KooyKai WesselJames TaylorBarbara Schlick,   ... 
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ghent Collegium VocaleGhent Collegium Vocale Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Once in while a recording comes along in which the performers, producers, and recording team get everything right. This is one of them. First issued in 1995, this production of Bach's Easter "oratorium" easily can claim supremacy among several very good alternatives. Largely cobbled from an earlier secular cantata for a duke's birthday, the music is some of Bach's most poignant while being alternately festive and meditative. There are no "roles" as we find in the Passions, no Evangelist-type recitatives, no chorales, and there's no real dramatic story line. Instead, we visit a particular scene--Peter, John, and the two Marys discover the empty tomb and contemplate its meaning. There are only two choruses, the first of Read more which is substantial--and one of Bach's masterpieces--and there's an unusual two-movement (fast-slow) orchestral introduction. The rest consists of arias for soprano, alto, and tenor (one of the most beautiful tenor arias in all of music) and some of Bach's most skillfully written recitatives. The performances here are everything you could wish for, with sound that neither giveth nor taketh away, but rather just allows us to hear everything clearly and naturally.

– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com [reviewing the Easter Oratorio, HM 901513]

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Another entry in Harmonia Mundi's ongoing Bach Edition, this recording from 1993 exemplifies both the consistently high standard of performance we've come to expect from Philippe Herreweghe and his Collegium Vocale and the astonishing musical variety and emotional/spiritual depth of Bach's vocal works. As usual in this series, the program reflects a theme, in this case the feast of Ascension, for which Bach wrote what proved to be his final oratorio (improperly catalogued as a cantata in the original edition of Bach's works) and at least three cantatas. The oratorio contains both original music and, as has recently been shown, several movements taken from cantatas no longer extant. It's a compelling and inexplicably underperformed work, far shorter than Bach's other oratorios, complete with some terrific orchestral music, two wonderful festive choruses, a tenor Evangelist narrator, a charming little duet for tenor and bass, and arias for soprano and alto.

– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com, reviewing BWV 11, HM 2951479

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When you collect Bach cantata recordings, you just have to accept that the near-infinite programming choices afforded by the combinations and permutations of 200 or so works will unavoidably lead to duplications of repertoire from disc to disc. Of course, you can just go for one complete set, such as the editions from Hänssler or Teldec, but then you'd miss out on some of the best performances, such as those on this new release from Philippe Herreweghe and his Collegium Vocale, arguably the most stylistically consistent and musically reliable interpreters of this repertoire. These three "Trinity" cantatas, two of which fall into the category of "chorale" cantatas, may not be among Bach's more memorable works in the genre, but they certainly don't lack for an abundance of engaging moments and profound utterances from the chorus and soloists.

BWV 2 opens with a sumptuous chorus, loaded with chromaticism and driven by a persistent bass line, all of which is filled out by a richly scored orchestra that doubles the voices. The subsequent soprano aria is a typically masterful construction with obbligato violin, sensitively sung by Johannette Zomer, and the later, very difficult tenor aria is handled with ease by Jan Kobow. In Bach's choral works with orchestra, clarity of texture certainly is among the more critical ingredients for successful performance, and in BWV 20, perhaps the best known of these three cantatas, Herreweghe's forces meet the challenge of the opening chorus' dense contrapuntal writing--not to mention the demands of articulating the French-overture figurations--with precision and considerable dramatic impact. Again, tenor Kobow dispatches his tricky aria "Ewigkeit, du machst mir bange" with admirable facility and lovely tone. This cantata also contains two beautifully harmonized settings of the chorale O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort and a lively soprano/tenor duet that implores its listeners to "cease forthwith to love the world and its sin".

BWV 176, one of Bach's shorter cantatas--and not based on a chorale theme--leads with an energetic chorus that folds into a bright, rhythmically buoyant soprano aria, effectively rendered by Zomer, who really grasps the textual implications (a recognition of Jesus' divinely chosen omnipotence). Although the reference recordings listed above both feature solid and perfectly acceptable performances of cantatas Nos. 2 and 20 (each has different couplings to fill out its program), this one has the edge in terms of exceptionally vibrant, full-bodied sound and impeccable performances from everyone--soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Tempos are sensible, giving expressive freedom to the singers but--as is typical of Herreweghe--always concerned to maintain overall clarity, coherence, and balance.

– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com [6/28/2003], reviewing BWV 2, 20, and 176, HM 901791
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Works on This Recording

1.
Easter Oratorio, BWV 249 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Peter Kooy (Bass), Kai Wessel (Countertenor), James Taylor (Tenor),
Barbara Schlick (Soprano)
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ghent Collegium Vocale,  Ghent Collegium Vocale Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1732-1735; Leipzig, Germany 
2.
O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Peter Kooy (Bass), Ingeborg Danz (Alto), Jan Kobow (Tenor)
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ghent Collegium Vocale,  Ghent Collegium Vocale Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
3.
Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh' darein, BWV 2 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Peter Kooy (Bass), Ingeborg Danz (Alto), Jan Kobow (Tenor)
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ghent Collegium Vocale,  Ghent Collegium Vocale Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1724; Leipzig, Germany 
4.
Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding um aller Menschen Herze, BWV 176 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Johannette Zomer (Soprano), Peter Kooy (Bass), Ingeborg Danz (Alto)
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ghent Collegium Vocale,  Ghent Collegium Vocale Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1725; Leipzig, Germany 
5.
Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11 "Ascension Oratorio" by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Christoph Prégardien (Tenor), Barbara Schlick (Soprano), Catherine Patriasz (Alto),
Peter Kooy (Bass)
Conductor:  Philippe Herreweghe
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ghent Collegium Vocale,  Ghent Collegium Vocale Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735; Leipzig, Germany 

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