Notes and Editorial Reviews
Saint Matthew Passion
Philippe Herreweghe, cond; Ian Bostridge (
); Franz-Josef Selig (
); Sibylla Rubens (sop); Andreas Scholl (ct); Werner Güra (ten); Dietrich Henschel (bs); Collegium Vocale Gent O & Ch (period instruments)
HARMONIA MUNDI 901676 (3 CDs: 161:22
Text and Translation)
This was Herreweghe’s second
, recorded in 1998 and originally released with a supplementary CD-ROM disc, which was omitted from this reissue. It received a laudatory notice in
23:4 by Brian Robbins, whose principal reservation appeared to be that, despite certain advantages, it did not substantially improve upon his benchmark recording of this sublime masterpiece—Herreweghe’s first
, recorded in 1985. Ultimately, he chose both—but will still have to decide every Good Friday whether Herreweghe I or Herreweghe II comes off the shelf this year.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I do not have to deal with this delicious dilemma. Not having heard Herreweghe I, I can appreciate Herreweghe II without remorse. It is certainly a splendid achievement, a moving interpretation worthy of this unique work of art. Herreweghe invests the music with a refined elegance—immediately evident in the magnificent opening chorus—without sacrificing its dramatic thrust, thanks in large part to Ian Bostridge’s searing realization of the Evangelist and Selig’s imposing portrayal of Jesus. Herreweghe’s other, fresh-voiced soloists range from good (Henschel) to outstanding (Scholl). As expected, Herreweghe achieves impeccable results from his chorus—or choruses (antiphonal effects are magnified by the wide stereo separation). The combined choirs, incidentally, number 31 singers, exclusive of the uncounted members in the opening movement of the Schola Cantorum Cantate Domino. Advocates of the notion that modest-sized choirs need not sacrifice in clarity what they offer in gravity thus accumulate more ammunition. The double orchestra is similarly accomplished. Herreweghe conveys the Passion story in all its agony and glory, but with perhaps a bit more of the latter than of the former. Nonetheless, Herreweghe’s second
remains a viable contender in what is becoming a surprisingly crowded field. Gardiner (Archiv) still tops the list, but not to the exclusion of valid alternatives.
FANFARE: George Chien