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GRAMOPHONE (07/1985)
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Harmonia Mundi

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Reviewer: Trevor Harvey

Abridged version

The orchestral playing, and in particular, the wind and violin obbligatos are an outstanding feature of this performance and gave me particular pleasure . The other delight is that Herreweghe introduces us to some admirable singers (for I had only heard the alto Rene Jacobs before). The soprano is a good singer for baroque music, with a steady line and a pure tone, while the tenor is adequate. Rene Jacobs is outstanding but the 'find' among the aria singers is the bass, Peter Kooy : a really splendid voice used with great intelligence and warmth of tone -his last aria "Mache dich , mein Herze, rein" , is particularly beautiful, for it can be so long and tedious if badly sung. Here it is superb.


As to the Evangelist and Jesus, Howard Crook and Ulrik Cold, each in his own way is outstanding; Crook with a most flexible voice and style , Cold for his authority, though his is not a noble voice in the usual sense, for it is lighter than we are used to , though none the less suitable. The recording unusually places Jesus rather nearer than the Evangelist and this seems suitable, for the latter is after all merely the narrator, while Jesus is the principal character of the whole drama.


One aspect of this performance may worry some listeners more than it did me—at least, until I had got used to it; and that is the unvaried treatment of the chorales, more drilled than in any other, I feel. Each is sung short line by short line, with an exact pause over the last note of each and a precise gap before the next starts . Moreover, dynamics are scarcely ever varied in the least bit. I did suspect a slight softening for the second verse of " O Haupt von Blut und Wunden" but I am not sure I may not have been imagining it. I accepted this once I had got used to it for I think I see the reasoning behind this approach. In any concert performance you cannot have an unorganized congregation singing hymns it knows well , as in Bach's time . Therefore you don't attempt anything like it; yet as the chorales cannot be simply omitted , the best thing is to have them sung well and as pla inly as possible.

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