Johann Sebastian Bach, Philippe Herreweghe - Matthaus-Passion

Published Saturday 3rd October 2015
Johann Sebastian Bach, Philippe Herreweghe - Matthaus-Passion
Johann Sebastian Bach, Philippe Herreweghe  - Matthaus-Passion

STYLE: Choral
RATING 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
LABEL: Harmonia Mundi HMY2921155-57

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

'The Saint Matthew Passion', to give Bach's 'Matthaus-Passion' (BWV 244) its English translation, is one of the crowning glories of baroque music and, to many ears - including those of this reviewer - one of the highlights of choral music. The superlatives scarcely need repeating here but we could and should ask which is the best version of the very many recordings to buy. While most reviewers will sing the praises of Bach's 'Matthaus-Passion' there is less unanimity over which recording is closest to what the composer intended and, for some, the quest for authenticity is an irrelevance. If a modern conductor can improve on what Bach had available to him then he - or she - should go ahead and do so. The version on review here was first released in 1985. It features the prescribed two choirs: La Chappell Royale and Collegium Vocale Gent, plus 10 soloists, all under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe. Now, 30 years later, the recording has reappeared in a smart box on the Harmonia Mundi Heritage label. No doubt there are commercial forces at work here - not that I have a problem with record labels earning a profit - but there is also a strong artistic case to be made for keeping this version alive. The audio quality is excellent and there is something special about the performance. Musically it is all done very well indeed and, although it sounds very subjective for me to say this, I got the impression that the performers put their hearts and souls into this as well as their undoubted technical ability. I cannot judge but, to me, it sounds like they believed in what they were doing. This is important to me. It would be hard to record a Bach Passion and just go through the motions without the result seeming phony. This recording sounds more like an act of worship than a performance and while there are other versions available that sound just as impressive if I had to pick just one to take to my desert island it would be this.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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