TRUE Religious Music, Re-Released After 18 Years
R. Gerard | Pennsylvania USA | 06/14/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Philippe Herreweghe seems to be taking the path of his mentor Mr. Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Both are very reputable conductors of early music ensembles, and both seem to release a new interpretation of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion every decade or so.Harmonia Mundi's 1999 release of Herreweghe's new reading of the St. Matthew Passion was met with unanimously excellent reviews (see how overjoyed I was in my review of Herreweghe's 1999 release) and to this day it still drawing much attention. There is much to be loved about it: Ian Bostridge's Evangelist, the Collegium Vocale's excellent and uniform singing, the list goes on.It's hard to believe that Herreweghe also recorded St. Matthew Passion in 1985, this time with Barbara Schlick, Rene Jacobs, and Howard Crook as evangelist. Much of Herreweghe's interpretation has changed during these years. His first stab at the "Great Passion" is re-released here.When I first heard that the 1985 recording would be re-released and re-packaged I was overjoyed since my original set (which I acquired in 1985 after the original release) was so old and scratched up that it was unusable in a CD player. So I had not listened to this, one of my favorite renditions, in seventeen or eighteen years.The choirs in the 1985 recording is much larger. Herreweghe even summons his other choir, La Chapelle Royale, to take the part of the first choir while the Collegium Vocale is assigned to the second choir. The sound is rather large in this 1985 recording, which, I guess, is a minus in the light of more recent musicological research favoring smaller choruses (even one-voice-per-part choruses. And remember how small the choruses in the 1999 version are-- smaller choruses are more praised nowadays in performing Bach). And the orchestra does not play with the legato that graces Herreweghe's newer recording so perfectly (if you listend to Herreweghe's interview on the CD-Rom that accompanies the newer St. Matthew release, he addresses the legato issue.) So while the sound of the already-classic 1999 release is so unique, the 1985 seems rather usual in comparison, sounding more like other period instrument perfomances by Brueggen or Gardiner.Howard Crook is an excellent evangelist. I would not compare him to Ian Bostridge on the 1999 reocording because they take very different approaches. I appreciate hearing Barbara Schlick here, but Sybilla Ruben's charming, almost boyish soprano is to be missed. Love him or hate him, Rene Jacobs is also on the older recording's roster. Andreas Scholl is a definite plus over Jacobs, as some people Jacob's voice rather squaky (I find it just fine on select recordings)Herreweghe's tempi were MUCH slower in 1985. So virtuosic arias such as "Gebt mir meinem Jesum wieder" lose their sparkle. Yet the gravity of the slower tempi are far more contemplative. And yes, while the older record lacks some in drama, it is a record thatf forces you into the mindset of the subject matter. This is TRUE religious music.Herreweghe's newer recording tops my list of favorite St. Matthew Passions. While Harnoncourt's 2001 release steals second place, Herreweghe's older recording, presented here in a re-release, has third-place hands down. I appreciate this approach more than I do Gardiner's release, which I am not too crazy about. Gardiner's sound engineers tried to create too much of the stereophony of the St. Thomas Church when they made one choir more audible than the other, therefore making Gardiner's record lose some points in drama (the second choir sounds like it's whispering and the soloists seem like the scattered about random places inside the recording venue.)Herreweghe's older recording has that "dark" atmosphere which I find particularly irresitible considering the subject matter. This dark atmosphere is unique to this recording and doesn't seem to manifest itself even in the new recording of 1999. The 1985 one sound also more archaic, which many people will also find as a benifit.Both old and new recordings by Herreweghe are great although I prefer the newer one, obviously. But this is, nonetheless, a must have recording- a collector's item, given the low price and considering that this release was pulled from record store shelves and Harmonia Mundi put it out of print for several years. Harmonia Mundi's and Philippe Herreweghe's 1985 St. Matthew Passion is a recording worthy of more recognition- the kind of great recognition it got nearly two decades ago after it's first release.Buy this Box Set. It will be something you will want to return to often."
The universal language of beauty
Mark Hennicke | A stone's throw from Carnegie Hall | 03/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whenever I listen to the present recording of Bach's St. Matthaus Passion, directed by Philippe Herreweghe, I am reminded of a quote by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, about beautiful music:
"I am convinced that music really is the universal language of beauty which can bring together all people of good will on earth and get them to lift their gaze on high and open themselves to the Absolute Good and Beauty whose ultimate source is God Himself."
Herreweghe and his musicians & vocalists give marvelously reverent performances of a score that is among the most beautiful we will ever hear. The Harmonia Mundi sound is sharp & focused, adding brilliantly to an exceptional listening experience. There is no shortage of fine recordings of this choral masterpiece by J.S. Bach, but this one is very special; like prayer, it is a wonderful example of what proper sacred music making should be: a chance to lift our hearts & minds in love and respect to Almighty God."