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Philippe Herreweghe & Collegium Vocale Gent
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 1

Philippe Herreweghe

Pieter-Jelle de Boer wrote (February 17, 1998):
This is my first contribution to this list, so a small introduction would seem appropriate. My name is Pieter-Jelle de Boer, I am studying piano and organ at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam, I am 20 years old and... how can I put this most strongly... well, I just love Bach. J.S., that is.

A few years ago, I heard Philippe Herreweghe's recording of the Himmelfahrtsoratorium, BWV 11 (Harmonia Mundi, HM 901479) on the radio. Until then, I never really believed in period instruments, but when I heard this, I was suddenly captured by the warmth and clarity of both singers and players. More important, I found Herreweghe to be one of the few conductors to really have a convincing view on Bach, at least for me, and I still do. In some way, he always seems to get to the heart of the music. At the moment, I own every Bach recording he made, except for the Matthäus. His Collegium Vocale is IMO one of the finest Bach choirs of the moment, more suitable than e.g. Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir with their (too) strongly present tenors and basses. Interesting (?): A new recording of the B-minor Mass is to be issued in due time, while Herreweghe said in an interview that he also wanted to record a new Matthäus. Among his best recordings are, IMO: The Johannespassion, Cantata BWV 21 (but I don't know Richter's version), the Osteroratorium BWV 249 and, of course, my "first love", the mentioned Himmelfahrtsoratorium.

My question: If there hasn't been a Herreweghe discussion before, any comments? Thanks!

 

Opinions on Herreweghe's recordings

Piotr Stanislawski wrote (February 2, 1999):
Partik wrote:
< Hallo Alan. Nice to have you on the list!
The record you mention got very goods reviews in both Gramophone and the German magazine Fonoforum, but I haven't checked it out yet. I certainly will I have heard the Scholl and it
ís very good (Scholl is a favourite of mine Off topic: You should listen Caldaras Maddalena a di piedo di Cristo om Harmina Mundi Scholl sings om the parts. René Jacobs conducts. A gem of a disk. I have a couple of Herreweghe's records. As I previously mentioned I really enjoy the two cantata records he has made on Virgin. The read one The blue one with BWV 39, BWV 93, BWV 107 is very low-keyed, inward and beautiful. >
<< Jane Newble wrote: As a new list-member it's nice to find at least two Herreweghe fans! A few weeks ago I heard the 'Mit Fried und Freud' Cantatas
BWV 8 (Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben), BWV 125 and BWV 138 in the shop, and was instantly struck so much that I had to buy it. Since then I have hardly been able to listen to anything else. I had already totally fallen for the Andreas Scholl cantatas, but then I did not know that Herreweghe was such an important part of the magic, although I loved the instrumental part as well. Are all the Herreweghe recordings like that? I was going to get Koopman's, but wonder now if I should, and which volume. >>
<<< Patrik Enander wrote: These last days I've been listening to Herreweghe's recording of Cantata
BWV 21, Ich habe viel Bekümmernis & BWV 42 Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbaths. It's excellent. It's nice to have another Herreweghe-fan on the list. I almost thought I was the only one. >>>
<<<< Ferenc Riesz wrote (January 27, 1999): I wish to hear your opinion on Koopman's Matthew Passion (Erato, around 1983). I saw it in a second-hand shop. I am hesitating to buy since I have Koopman's Cantatas Vol.2 and find it boring and uninspired. It doesn't "speak" to me. On the other side, I find Herreweghe's recordings (cantatas, Johannes Passion) excellent in every respect and perfectly fitting to my personal taste (this is just to describe my taste). >>>>
Hello Jane, Patrik, Ferenc and Alan.

I am the fifth fan of Herreweghe. It happened last week.

I have to say I have not planed to collect Bach's vocal (sacred) music before I finish with instrumental. Actually I was not sure if I ever start it because of its strong religious meaning. I left it for future. But last week in CD store I took his recording of cantatas (there was nothing what paid my attention but remembered yours mails) and started listening (it was double CD with cantatas of BWV 39, BWV 73, BWV 93, BWV 105, BWV 107, and BWV 131) I was simply struck by his rendition! I have heard some vocal recordings of Gardiner, Rifkin and Richter (I liked the best) before, but this one is a real treasure and moved me much. When I finished I had two words to express my feelings about this rendition: mystery and magic! I was wondering if others Herreweghe's recordings are also such spiritual or he achieved it only on this one. So, I found two more: four Lutheran Missae BWV 233-236 and spend another one hour listening them. I had exactly the same feelings and impressions - full of mystery, peace and beauty. And had to buy them all. I do not know what with I will pay this month for eight already ordered CD's but it happened, I had to buy them. Now I wonder if others his recordings sounds like these (Mathew & John Passions, Motets, Magnificat (BWV 243) and Mass in B (BWV 232)).

Jane Newble wrote (February 3, 1999):
Hello, it's wonderful-all these Herreweghe fans! I am still listening to the 'Mit Fried und Freud' and discover new things in it all the time. Am I becoming totally addicted? I have also ordered the ones Patrik wrote about (the red and the blue ones), but the shop will not get them until next week, so I have to be patient! I will have to collect all the Herreweghe recordings. Mystery and magic is a good way of describing them! I also find the instrumental sounds and the voices so amazingly pure. Being Dutch myself, I thought I would have to get Koopman's cantatas, but I have not even heard them so far. Next on the list are Herreweghe's St. John and Matthew passions and the Mass in B minor. I am intrigued about the old or new one...? Can you still get both recordings? Thank you for the recommendations.

Jaime Jean Meneses wrote (February 19, 1999):
Thanks for putting a good word for my opinions.

What I like about Herreweghe is that he doesn't take HIP to an extreme, such as Gardiner. He creates a balance between the extremely HIP when it comes to tempi, phrasing and number of musicians, and the "old school" performances.

I don't agree that Herreweghe lacks "kohones" (I love that descriptive word, which comes from pure Spanish slang). In the contrary, he takes the best of both schools with an emphasis on the purity of sound, on a very careful phrasing, and on outstanding soloists.

Among the examples of the old school I have heard are Münchinger's St. John Passion and von Karajan's St. Matthew Passion. Eugen Jochum's Christmas Oratorio is a good example too. Although they both boast great singers like Elly Ameling or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the intimacy and serenity are missing. Too large orchestras, very slow tempi, even a hint of an operatic influence. Too much emphasis is put on the drama, too little on the religious content that is the driving force behind Bach's works.

It has been mentioned in this forum that Gardiner often goes too fast, and I agree, although that doesn't make his versions less enjoyable, just different. Anyway, when compared to a slower, more careful performance like Herreweghe's, the latter becomes my favourite by far.

I might just add that, although I like Harnoncoutoo (I have only heard his St John Passion and Christmas Oratorio), at times he seems a bit "sloppy" when compared to Herreweghe, especially when it comes to soloists. His choice of boy soloists is not always the most fortunate when compared to Herreweghe's sopranos or male altos (Barbara Schlick, Charles Brett and René Jacobs are among his favourite), although Harnoncourt's historical point can be more accurate on this. At times I get the impression that, in these particular recordings, Harnoncourt tries to conduct Bach "as it sounded", whereas Herreweghe tries to make it perfect - and he succeeds at it.

 

Herreweghe cantata recordings

Ryan Michero wrote (December 2, 1999):
BACH BARGAIN ALERT!

Well, if any of you are just starting a Bach cantata collection, or you are a more experienced collector wanting to explore the Bach cantata recordings of Philippe Herreweghe, you are in luck. ALL of Herreweghe's superb Bach cantata recordings are available at super-budget prices!

Many of you know about the great cantata box sets offered in the Harmonia Mundi Bach Edition, "The Most Beautiful Cantatas," a five-disc set for the price of three (mid-priced) discs, and "Festive Cantatas," a four-disc set for the price of two. As if this were not enough, Virgin is now offering a four-disc set of Herreweghe's Virgin cantata and Latin mass recordings for the price of a single full-priced disc! Throw in Herreweghe's Magnificat recording with Cantata BWV 80 on it, and you've got all of Herreweghe's Bach cantata recordings for under $100 US!

I haven't seen the Virgin release, so I can't comment on the quality of the documentation. I can say that the Harmonia Mundi sets are thoroughly documented and are packaged in a nice cardboard box that takes up very little space on my shelves.

These are some of the best recordings of some of Bach's best cantatas. I can't recommend these bargain reissues highly enough!

CD details:

"The Most Beautiful Cantatas"
HMX 2908091.95 5 CD [4h52'37]
Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust BWV 170
Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV 54
Geist und Seele wird verwirret BWV 35
Ich habe genung BWV 82
Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen BWV 56
Der Friede sei mit dir BWV 158
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis BWV 21
Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats BWV 42
Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben BWV 8
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin BWV 125
Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz BWV 138
Trauerode BWV 198 Lass Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl
Jesu, der du meine Seele
BWV 78

"Festive Cantatas"
HMX 2908070.73 4 CD [4h24'19]
Oster-Oratorium BWV 249
Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen BWV 66
Gott fähret mit Jauchzen BWV 43
Sie werden euch in den Bann tun BWV 44
Himmelfahrts-Oratorium BWV 11
Schwingt freudig euch empor BWV 36
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 61
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 62
Das neugeborne Kindelein BWV 122
Unser Mund sei voll Lachens BWV 110
Selig ist der Mann BWV 57

"Magnificat"
HMX 2951326 1 CD [53'00]
Magnificat BWV 243
Cantate BWV 80 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott'

VB 5617212
Cantatas: BWV 39, BWV 73, BWV 93, BWV 105, BWV 107, BWV 131
Masses BMV 233-6
Collegium Vocale/Herreweghe
Virgin 4-CD's for the price of 1

Enrico Bortolazzi wrote (December 2, 1999):
I have almost all the Harmonia Mundi CD's with Herreweghe and I confirm they are superb, well done in the packages and notes, high level quality of sound, and of course Herreweghe and his singers and players at top. For those who like me that need only few CD's HM has also released each disc separately, a little more expensive but not too much.

Regarding the Virgin releases I already have the masses, same high quality level as for HM. Do you know if one can buy only the cantatas?

HM has a beautiful site, and if you go in the US version you can see all the re-release about Bach (not only Herreweghe). Is there a Virgin www site with information?

Ryan Michero wrote (December 2, 1999):
(To Enrico Bortolazzi) Yes, the cantatas are available in a two-disc box (better value) or separately at www.musicexpress.com.

Enrico Bortolazzi wrote (December 3, 1999):
Thanks for the tip. There are two strange things regarding this 2Cd box:

1 - nothing is said on the virgin site
2 - its price is higher that the 4Cd box with the masses. At musicexpress the prices are

4-CD box (cantatas + masses) $18.85!
2-CD box (only cantatas) $28.43
1-CD (cantatas) $23.49

Even if I already have the masses I should better to buy the 4Cd set! Or are they reporting a wrong price?

Piotr Stanislawski wrote (December 3, 1999):
(To Enrico Bortolazzi) Hello Enrico, They report well. The 4-CD box includes four Lutheran Masses and cantatas BWV 39, BWV 73, BWV 93, BWV 107 and BWV 131. These cantatas are (still) sold on two separates CD's - 'red & blue' - but they are also sold together in special paper package - the number is Virgin Veritas 5 45304 2 Double. Last week I bought the 4-CD box including all above-mentioned recordings for the price of one (10 $)! That's really amazing because Herreweghe's renditions of these Bach's works are exceptional, very spiritual, for me the best I heard by now. I am not sure - I lend this box to a friend of mine for a week - but I think the booklet does not include the music text. If I had it back I will tell you the details.

Pascal Bédaton wrote (December 2, 1999):
(To Ryan Michero) Ryan, I totally agree with you!

I started my Bach collection some years ago with Herreweghe and IMO, all his recordings are very good. Musically good and also well recorded. I have all cantata CD's he recorded, included the Virgin one's and I am very happy with them. Now I am completed my collection with Harnoncourt/Leonhardt and if you look well these recordings, for some of them, Herreweghe helped them which is a proof of his competence.

The short Missas double CD recorded for Virgin is also very good but his best recording for the time being, is IMO, the Missa in C/Harmonia Mundi which is also a mid-price.

A new cantata CD is expected for Easter 2000.

I asked Harmonia Mundi some months ago to know if Herreweghe will record in a long term all the cantatas and they reply no, he records only the cantatas he likes the more.

For those who will discover the Herreweghe Cantata recordings, I wish a good listening. Enjoy them and enjoy the Harmonia Mundi prices which are allow you to purchase a lot of them for the price of some of them...

Ryan Michero wrote (December 2, 1999):
(To Pascal Bédaton) Whose "Missa in C" are we talking about? Bach's? I don't believe J.S. Bach wrote a "Missa in C." Perhaps it is another Missa, or else the "B-minor Mass"?

Patrik Enander wrote (December 2, 1999):
I think that the 2 first cantata CD's: I bought was the two on Virgin. I enjoy them very much. Unfortunately on one of the CD's: Charles Brett sings the alto and I don't enjoy his throaty voice. On the other one it's Gerard Lesne who is outstanding as usual. That CD BWV 131, BWV 105, BWV 73 is a desert island CD!

 

Herreweghe cantatas

Kirk McElhearn wrote (December 7, 1999):
I am posting this to both lists, since it covers both topics.

I bought the Herreweghe box of the Most Beautiful Cantatas today. I only had heard his masses, passions, and the Easter oratorio before. I am listening to the very first one now, and I must say it is a shame that he is not planning to record them all. He seems to have the best feeling for these works of any versions I have yet heard (haven't heard Koopman though...). There is a certain balance in both the voices and the instruments...

And, considering the discussion on the cantata list on BWV 57 and the soprano, it is such a pleasure to hear the voices (Here, Scholl) that are not little boys.

I have the complete Harnoncourt/Leonhardt cantatas, but I see now that I need to get more different versions. Rats, just when I thought I had enough Bach CD's....

Kudos to HM for releasing these cantatas in low-priced box sets!

 

Herreweghe's recording at Virgin?

Ferenc Riesz wrote (January 12, 2000):
I am new to this list although I used to be a member at the Lyris list. I noticed a 4-CD set from Virgin containing cantatas and masses (probably the short ones) by Herreweghe. A link to the catalogue entry:
http://www.virginclassics.com/vclass-cgi-bin/rh_cat_frm.cgi?key=466

Could anybody help me with the content of this release? Is it a budget-price recording?

Johan van Veen wrote (January 12, 2000):
(To Ferenc Riesz) It is indeed. It contains the Cantatas BWV 39, BWV 73, BWV 93, BWV 105, BWV 107, BWV 131 and the 4 short masses (BWV 233-236). Don't miss it, because it is a very good offer with excellent recordings.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (January 12, 2000):
Budget-price? I'd rather say X-tra-super-budget price (!) - in Warsaw you can get the whole set of 4-CD's for the price of even less than ONE! In terms of other values - I strongly join Johan's opinion - cantatas are very beautiful (BWV 131 - for me - the best performance ever! neglected masses - very much worth of exploration. However as for the "Gloria from BWV 233 Duel" between Herreweghe and McCreesh - my vote goes to the second. So, go ahead Ferenc - You won't be disappointed.

Ryan Michero wrote (January 12, 2000):
I also give a very high recommendation to this collection of some of the finest Bach vocal recordings out there. The masses are especially valuable, since they are wonderful performances of too rarely performed pieces. I doubt, though, that the set you mention contains texts and translations if that makes a difference to you.

Stijn DePaepe wrote (January 17, 2000):
[To Ferenc Riesz] It indeed is a budget recording: 4-CD's for the price of one and a half, when I remember well, that is of course the price here in Belgium. It includes 6 magnificent cantatas (for example 'Aus der tiefen ruf ich zu dir, Herr') and 6 Missas: really splendid Lutheran masses. Herreweghe here again is in extremely good shape, and so are his soloists Schlick, Prégardien, Lesne, Kooy... You should have it, Ferenc.

Ferenc Riesz wrote (February 10, 2000):
(To Piotr Jaworski) Hello Piotr, Believe or not: in Hungary its price is more than 3 times higher! I have to wait until June when I go to Warsaw...

Piotr Stanislawski wrote (February 10, 2000):
I bought this box, the price is just 10 $ now. In Warsaw I see it only in one big shop - "Empik" on Nowy Swiat Street but not always. When you know the date of coming let me know it I can check it out and order for you (than they will leave one). At the same price there is Parrott's recording of Overtures and Brandenburgs. Someone in Hungary wants to earn money very easy...

 

For Herreweghe Fans

Jane Newble wrote (January 17, 2000):
If you don't like Herreweghe, don't read this...if you do like him, this will gladden your heart, as it did mine, I expect. It's nice to hear someone confirm the things you already knew. This someone is Maarten 't Hart, the Dutch expert on Bach cantatas, and he reviews the Teldec, the Hänssler and the Harmonia Mundi series of cantatas in a Dutch magazine "Luister". Wim Huisjes advised me to get this magazine and I did. I just had to translate this bit, so you could all enjoy it too.

Maarten 't Hart says this about Herreweghe:

"...In fact it applies to all the Herreweghe recordings that they make the Rilling as well as the L&H recordings superfluous. At the moment he is for me the ideal conductor for the cantatas. HM has produced in total 23 cantatas which have now been put together in 2 boxes 'Les plus belles cantatas' and 'Les cantatas de fetes'.

In addition Herreweghe has done BWV 39, BWV 93 and BWV 107 on Virgin Classics. (He forgot to mention BWV 131, BWV 73 and BWV 105 on the same label...J.) Herreweghe already appeared on the list of performers in the early L&H project. That's apparently where he learnt how not to do it. He does not phrase the music to pieces; he does not deal so idiotically with dynamic contrast, and his instruments sound excellent. But then he has at his disposal the sublime hoboist Marcel Ponseele who is at the top of the wants-list of all HIP Bach cantata conductors. What is so magnificent about Herreweghe is that timid, intimate, almost mystical sound. The tempi are always well chosen, the music can breathe, the cantata-texts have obviously been studied which is why the interpretations agree with that which Bach must have had in mind when he put the texts to music. His small choir always sings perfectly, his small orchestra is completely balanced. Of course he does not always have the very best soloists to hand, neither are they always in top form. Particularly the soprano parts cause problems at times (the same as with Koopman). Barbara Schlick has problems with the high notes in cantata BWV 21 (- the Herreweghe recording of this is by far the best available of this cantata). In fact she really always forces her voice when it comes to the high notes..." (Maarten 't Hart)

Patrik Enander wrote (January 17, 2000):
(To Jane Newble) Thank you Jane for ´t Haart excerpt Very interesting. For those of you who haven't read his novels: they are very good and filled with bits of music: Bach and Bruckner as far as I can remember-

Wim Huisjes wrote (January 17, 2000):
To be more specific: Maarten 't Hart wrote (at least) two books with short essays: "Een havik onder Delft" (sorry, don't have a clue on how that would translate into Swedish). These essays cover a lot of topics, several of them about music (Bach, Smetana, Mahler, etc.).

The second book has a German title: "Du holde Kunst" (after Schubert's song) with the Dutch sub-title "Over muziek" (= "About music"). It contains essays about many composers, from Scarlatti to Schoenberg. There's probably more.... In most of his novels Bach pops up somewhere.... A former biology professor, very critical towards Christian beliefs in the beginning of his career as author, nowadays very fanatic anti. Obsessed by Bach, especially the cantatas.

I don't always agree with him (in his comments on BWV 106, he really has his theology up side down), but he is well informed (rather a walking encyclopaedia) on Bach and writes with great insight. Never knew his books made it into Sweden though (or can you read Dutch?).

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 18, 2000):
(To Wim Huisjes) Are any of them available in English? Is he on the list, BTW?

Wim Huisjes wrote (January 18, 2000):
[To KirkMcElhearn]
First question: don't know. Maybe Jane knows?

Second question: no, and I doubt he ever will be.

Vincenzo Vennarini wrote (January 18, 2000):
I agree this comment on Herreweghe quite completely, Herreweghe is my favorite one as well, BUT, 2 critics:

1) Herreweghe is so great BECAUSE OF Harnoncourt, not NOTWITHSTADING. Don't we forget that Harnoncourt is the pioneer of HIP, and Herreweghe should nor even exist without him. We can forgive him his imperfections, he made his cantatas in the 1970's! Harnoncourt is a genius, IMHO.

2) There are some "moods" that Herreweghe does not express in the best way: I'm thinking about powerful and joyful movements, just like "Herz und mund und Tat und leben", or bass aria "grosser Herr" from Christmas oratorio (BWV 248), or "et resurrexit", from Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), to understand what I mean. I think he is too intimate. I think Gardiner is unsurpassed on those.

Ryan Michero wrote (January 18, 2000):
Regarding Jane Newble's post of Maarten 't Hart's comments about Herreweghe on the Bach Cantatas list, I would like to echo Vincenzo's comments and add a couple of my own. Let it be said up front that I am a Herreweghe fan and I love many of his recordings.

< In fact it applies to all the Herreweghe recordings that they make the Rilling as well as the L&H recordings superfluous. >
No, no, no! Herreweghe's recordings are fine, but they are not the final word on these works. He doesn't convey every emotion equally well, as Vincenzo said. Outright, ecstatic joy consistently evades him, and his style does not fit every cantata. Harnoncourt and Leonhardt will never be made "superfluous" for many reasons, among them their unique approach to performance (using boys to sing all soprano parts, for instance), their trailblazing interpretations, and just the fact that, for many cantatas, their recordings are still the only HIP versions available. Herreweghe has stated that he doesn't want to record every cantata, just the ones he likes the most. He will most likely never record many works, making the more complete sets all the more important.

< At the moment he is for me the ideal conductor for the cantatas. Herreweghe already appeared on the list of performers in the early L&H project. That's apparently where he learnt how not to do it. >
No, no, no! Without L&H, there would be no Herreweghe! Yes, he changed many aspects of interpretation to fit his view of the works. But I know Herreweghe values his experience discovering all of the cantatas with L&H.

< He does not phrase the music to pieces; he does not deal so idiotically with dynamic contrast, and his instruments sound excellent. >
"Idiotic"? What kind of critic resorts to such childish name-calling?

< But then he has at his disposal the sublime hoboist Marcel Ponseele who is at the top of the wants-list of all HIP Bach cantata conductors. >
I like Ponseele very much. But I've only found him to be technically competent and expressive. "Sublime"? I've yet to hear a moment from him that was truly magical, really. I may be wrong, though. Can anyone point out some of Ponseele's finest moments so I can reassess my opinion?

< What is so magnificent about Herreweghe is that timid, intimate, almost mystical sound. >
Agreed!

< The tempi are always well chosen, the music can breathe, the cantata-texts have obviously been studied which is why the interpretations agree with that which Bach must have had in mind when he put the texts to music. His small choir always sings perfectly, his small orchestra is completely balanced. >
Also agreed!

< Of course he does not always have the very best soloists to hand, neither are they always in top form. Particularly the soprano parts cause problems at times (the same as with Koopman). Barbara Schlick has problems with the high notes in cantata BWV 21 (- the Herreweghe recording of this is by far the best available of this cantata). In fact she really always forces her voice when it comes to the high notes..." (Maarten 't Hart) >
Closing with a little Schlick bashing, eh? Well, I can't say I'm a Schlick devotee, but I do like her tonal quality. I do think she sounds a little strained sometimes, especially in the early Koopman volumes.

No mention of Suzuki? Perhaps he hasn't bothered to listen to any Suzuki recordings? For me, Suzuki's interpretations are at least as good if not better than Herreweghe's. Generally, I think Suzuki and Koopman are preferable to Herreweghe because of the wider range of their expression. Herreweghe does have a lovely, magical sound, which works wonderfully for many of the cantatas, but not all!

Also, I'm becoming more and more bothered by what seems like a "Romantic" bent in Herreweghe's interpretations. He started his life in music playing Romantic works on the piano, and I think the whole style has permeated his feeling for sound. He avoids changes in phrasing and dynamics (a virtue for 't Haart), which seems to me symptomatic of old-fashioned Romantic Bach interpretation. Also, his preference for singers with wide, copious vibrato is distressing. It is telling that he is recently delving more and more into the Romantic repertoire lately. I also read that he loves Bruckner as much as he loves Bach. Now, that's what I would love to hear from Herreweghe--more Bruckner! Bring it on, Philippe!

Johan van Veen wrote (January 18, 2000):
I fully agree with Ryan's comments. I would like to add that Mr. 't Hart's expertise regarding music is somewhat - or perhaps I should say: highly - exaggerated. I remember him being in a radio program in which three "experts" were reviewing new CD's. Once a CD was played without mentioning composer or performer. The "experts" were invited to guess what sort of music was played. Mr. 't Hart thought it was organ music by Widor. In fact, it was Spanish organ music of the 17th century. Well, there is nothing wrong in guessing the wrong composer, but an "expert" should be able to distinguish between Widor and Spanish music of the 17th century. Then he said about the performance that the organ was out of tune. He didn't recognize that the organ was differently tuned - as one would expect from a 17th century organ. It should also be kept in mind that he has several times said that all music of Vivaldi is totally worthless, and should all be thrown away. For a long time he was a fanatic opponent of period instruments. I don't know since when he has changed his mind, but having read his views on Bach's music I would say that he has a rather romantic view on Bach.

I haven't heard any comment from him on Harnoncourt and Leonhardt, but I am sure he regards them very highly. He is a very modest character, who would never criticize people for their interpretations. I suppose that he would say that it is only normal when someone develops his own views on music and that there isn't such a thing as the "correct" interpretation.

It is not fair to compare the level of playing of the 1990's with that of the 1960's and 1970's. Without the pioneer work of Harnoncourt and Leonhardt the level of today's playing wouldn't be as high as it is right now. Many of today's performers will acknowledge that. I believe the phrasing and articulation as well as the dynamic contrasts in the recordings of Leonhardt and Harnoncourt do much more justice to the rhetorical character of baroque music - and of Bach's music in particular - than the much more 'legato' approach which seem to have the upper hand today.

It is very unfair to refer only to some less fortunate performances and recordings. I didn't like her performances with Ton Koopman, but later she recorded songs from Schemelli's Gesangbuch (with Klaus Mertens, Wouter Moller and Bob van Asperen on CPO), where she gives great performances. Over the years I have heard fine interpretations of music from the 17th and 18th centuries on German radio. One of her latest recordings is one with Lieder by Reger (accompanied on a late 19th century piano) which is very worthwhile (not exmy kind of music, but she almost convinces me that Reger is great!).

Some years ago he said in an interview that he "discovered" the legato. Unfortunately it shows in his recent Bach recordings, which I like less and less. His second recording of the b minor Mass is very disappointing, and what I have heard from his recent St Matthew Passion isn't promising as well. I have a CD where Herreweghe directs his choir in motets by members of the Bach family. It is one of his best recordings and probably the best with this repertoire. It is characterized by a very rhetorical approach, which makes every single word understandable. The sharp articulation and phrasing makes it almost sound like 'Sprechgesang'. Isn't that in line with the ideals of the baroque, that music was based on speaking rather than singing?

Sybrand Bakker wrote (January 18, 2000):
Being Dutch myself, having followed both Maarten 't Hart (a long term member of the recordings review program 'Discotabel' on Dutch radio, and writer) and Herreweghe (I remember a St Matthew of him somewhere in the mid 70s), I would like to add a few comments

- Please note Maarten 't Hart has been very opposed, even hostile, against HIP in general, and L&H in particular. Tastes do seem to change, as he hasn't been hostile about Koopman, and evidently, not about Herreweghe too. The comment 'idiotic' does sound familiar from his earlier comments on L&H recordings, usually tearing them down completely. Maarten 't Hart originally has been an ethnologist, studying rats. The strange thing is, he is still very opposed against Calvinism in particular and faith in God in general. He even runs a column in one of the most renowned Dutch newspapers, especially devoted to proving many passages from the Bible are humbug. Comments written in the same style as the 'idiotic' comments. As long as you don't know the person behind the writer, his novels are beautiful, as soon as you get to know him better, you have to say his at least a bit odd.

- Herreweghe states in an interview on the accompanying CD-ROM to his new recording of the MP, he WANTS to reconcile romantic and HIP-tastes. I share your concern. For me a very strange experience was listening to a recording of the Easter Oratorio. There was a time, somewhere in the sixties/seventies, when Bach was a typical Sunday afternoon composer. You listened to beautiful music, that simply 'was', and didn't disquiet/bother you in any way. One particular aria in the H recording of the Easter Oratorio reminded me of that sensation (it may have been an oboe aria with Ponseele, or something with two flutes, don't remember). Somehow, however, I considered that to be a nagging doubt: 'Did we go through all that reconstruction/restoration etc work, to RETURN to the Bach aesthetics of the 60s?'

Herreweghe in a way is just the opposite of Gardiner: while Gardiner is always technically brilliant, he will be more suited to 'Jauchzet, frohlocket', he simply doesn't understand the Actus Tragicus. Herreweghe, however, will, I agree with you, always remain on the safe side, which means too restrained for 'Jauchzet, frohlocket'.

Steven Langley Guy wrote (January 18, 2000):
Also, I'm becoming more and more bothered by what seems like a "Romantic" bent in Herreweghe's interpretations. He started his life in music playing Romantic works on the piano, and I think the whole style has permeated his feeling for sound. He avoids changes in phrasing and dynamics (a virtue for 't Haart), which seems to me symptomatic of old-fashioned Romantic Bach interpretation. Also, his preference for singers with wide, copious vibrato is distressing. It is telling that he is recently delving more and more into the Romantic repertoire lately. I also read that he loves Bruckner as much as he loves Bach. Now, that's what I would love to hear from Herreweghe--more Bruckner! Bring it on, Philippe!

I liked Herreweghe's earlier St Matthew (BWV 244) but I didn't go for his B Minor Mass (BWV 232) on Virgin which was timid, intimate and moving but totally lacking in boldness in any movement that featured trumpets.

Apart from doing some of the cantatas I feel certain that Herreweghe's destiny is in bringing HIP to the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Just yesterday I listened to Herreweghe's very moving account of Brahms' Ein Deutsche Requiem op.45 with La Chapelle Royal, Collegium Vocale & les Orchestre des Champs Elysees HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901608). It is in works like these that Herreweghe really shines. The Brahms is perhaps one of his best recordings in recent years, but his recent Schumann, Berlioz and Beethoven recordings are similarly good (I try to buy everything thing Herreweghe and his Orchestre des Champs Elysees record written after January 1st 1800).

I do feel that Herreweghe is one of the conductors who has most benefited from taking HIP into the 19th Century. Herreweghe is good in Bach, but, as Ryan has pointed out, his approach does seem to carry some 19th Century luggage. I am always impressed with Herreweghe's VIRGIN VERITAS recordings of the Bach's four Lutheran Masses and these are the best versions I have heard since the old Dresden Kreuzchor's versions on ARCHIV, which I bought as a teenager in the seventies. (I haven't yet heard the Chandos/Chaconne recordings with their one-voice-per-part approach).

I think Herreweghe is wise to stick to cantatas he likes and leave to complete sets to Rilling, Koopman and Suzuki.

I sometimes wish Harnoncourt and Leonhardt would have another crack at the cantatas - yes, I know that they are both in their seventies (I think) and they probably don't have time either. The trouble is that Harnoncourt would probably insist on dragging in the Concertgebouw Orchestra into it!

Maybe McCreesh could do a respectable cantata cycle in a few years?

Matthew Westphal wrote (January 18, 2000):
I agree with Ryan's worries about Herreweghe's Bach, particularly as regards vocal soloists.

Herreweghe does indeed love Bruckner and would dearly love to perform and (later) record Bruckner on period instruments. However, he points out that for now, at least, there isn't sufficient governmental or institutional support to do so. You need a much larger group of musicians to perform a Bruckner symphony than you do for a Bach cantata. (Think about it - for most Bach cantatas, he'd need an orchestra of 12-18 people, plus his choir of 12-16 singers and any soloists. This versus an orchestra of 60-70 for Bruckner.) It's very expensive and so far, there isn't the money to pay for it on period instruments. (In this regard, we should keep in mind that there are already established conventional orchestras -- usually with year-round contracts -- that have that music in their repertoire.)

Matthew Westphal wrote (January 18, 2000):
Steven Langley Guy wrote:
< I liked Herreweghe's earlier St Matthew but I didn't go for his B Minor Mass on Virgin which was timid, intimate and moving but totally lacking in boldness in any movement that featured trumpets. >
This has been true of much of Herreweghe's work, but I find that in Herreweghe's more recent B-Minor Mass for Harmonia Mundi (much better is almost all aspects than the earlier effort for Virgin), the Gloria, Sanctus and Osanna convey a feeling of joy much better than had been usual for this conductor.

< I am always impressed with Herreweghe's VIRGIN VERITAS recordings of the Bach's four Lutheran Masses and these are the best versions I have heard since the old Dresden Kreuzchor's versions on ARCHIV, which I bought as a teenager in the seventies. (I haven't yet heard the Chandos/Chaconne recordings with their one-voice-per-part approach). >
Vol.1 of the Chandos is superb! (I do have a review up at Amazon if anyone is interested in a more specific review). Vol.2 is due for release in February.

Patrik Enander wrote (January 19, 2000):
Wim Huisjes wrote:
< To be more specific: Maarten 't Hart wrote (at least) two books with short essays: "Een havik onder Delft" (sorry, don't have a clue on how that would translate into Swedish). These essays cover a lot topics, several of them about music (Bach, Smetana, Mahler, etc.). >
That I didn't know! Never knew his books made it into Sweden though (or can you read Dutch?). Even though I can get a fair grasp, Swedish is a Germanic language, no, I don't read Dutch. There are at least 5-6 novels in Swedish by him. The last one I read was Het woeden der gehele Welt (Om se hela varlden rasar)

A friend of mine, who is a great Bach-fan, is also a ´t Haart-fan. Perhaps there is a connection?

Philip Peters wrote (January 19, 2000):
(To Wim Huisjes) In that case I can safely say that, his encyclopaedic knowledge of music notwithstanding, I rarely read worse novels than his. Badly written and mostly about nothing but heavy Protestantism (exaggerating just a little bit).

Patrik Enander wrote (January 21, 2000):
(Ponseele) BWV 82 with Kuijken, BWV 131 and BWV 21 with Herreweghe is magic to me.

 

Continue on Part 2

Philippe Herreweghe: Short Biography | La Chapelle Royale | Collegium Vocale Gent
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Individual Recordings:
Cantatas BWV 29, 119 & 120 - P. Herreweghe | Christmas Cantatas from Leipzig - P. Herreweghe | Weinen Klagen.. Cantata BWV 12, 38 & 75 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 232 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 244 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 245 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 248 - P. Herreweghe
Table of recordings by BWV Number

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Last update: ıDecember 30, 2012 ı12:45:56