Johann Sebastian Bach. H-moll-Messe, BWV 232.

Philippe Herrewegheís elegant performance with Collegium Vocale Gent is surely one of the catalogueís most suave and nuanced readings. As has long been the case with this ensemble, the choral sound is wonderfully unforced with a propensity for wafting lines, close attention to articulation, and highly sculpted contours. This latter quality is especially gratifying, heard in particularly refined versions chorally at the ìQui tollis,î orchestrally at the ìEt in unum,î and in the tutti at the ìDona nobis pacem,î and the ìSanctus,î where the adjectival clichÈ ìangelicî suddenly seems to claim a new legitimacy.
Unsurprisingly, several movements move with a stylish dance-like buoyancyóthe ìGloriaî exuberantly so, the ìLaudamus teî with irresistible grace. If these things do not surprise, they are nonetheless the fruit of careful interpretation. On occasion the interpretation strikes out in a more surprising direction. In the poignant tombeau, ìCrucifixus,î Herreweghe has the slower moving accompanimental figures played with rather more accent than one typically finds, suggestive perhaps of the hammering of the nails into the cross, but in any event an affective addition of expressive tension.
Of the soloists, countertenor Andreas Scholl is most memorable, especially with his ìAgnus Dei.î Here, in masterfully shaped lines he not only fashions a moment of unusual affectivity, but also reinforces the general vocal aesthetic of the choir with his sensitivity to contour. This degree of integration helps bridge the distance that often seems to separate solo and ensemble forces, and this is gratifying, indeed.
Precious few instances prompt critical comment. One instance, however, was the horn playing in the difficult ìQuoniam.î Though admirably accurate, the articulation and general manner was marred by a pecky, static equality of attacks that left things shapeless and inelegant . . . regrettable in any version, but doubly so here as so much of the playing and singing was, by contrast, the epitome of shape and elegance.
This, aside, Herrewegheís careful attention to nuance stamps this performance as a distinctive one to return to again and again . . . and I shall!
Steven Plank

image_description=Johann Sebastian Bach: H-moll-Messe, BWV 232
product_title=Johann Sebastian Bach: H-moll-Messe, BWV 232
product_by=Johannette Zomer, VÈronique gens, sopranos; Andreas Scholl, alto; Christoph PrÈgardien, tenor; Peter Kooy, Hanno M¸ller-Brachmann, basses; Collegium Vocale Gent; Philippe Herreweghe, Conductor
product_id=Harmonia Mundi France HML 5901614.15 [2CDs]