Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent’s impeccable Bach St. Matthew Passion

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Bach, St. Matthew Passion: Choir and Orchestra of Collegium Vocale Gent / Philippe Herreweghe (conductor). Tonhalle Zurich, 16.4.2022. (JR)

Philippe Herreweghe conducts the Choir and Orchestra of Collegium Vocale Gent

Bach – St. Matthew Passion

Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor) – Evangelist
Konstantin Krimmel (bass) – Jesus
Dorothee Mields (soprano)
Grace Davidson (soprano)
Tim Mead (alto)
James Hall (alto)
Samuel Boden (tenor)
Guy Cutting (tenor)
Johannes Kammler (bass)
Tobias Berndt (bass)

You know exactly what you are going to get when iconic Philippe Herreweghe brings his small-scale but perfectly formed and renowned choir and orchestra with a well-known Bach choral work. It simply says it on the tin. This concert was the final performance in a short European tour taking in Innsbruck and Munich, and I feared they might be fatigued, but I need not have worried.

Herreweghe’s outfit is a well-oiled machine. There are no histrionics, no sudden changes in tempo, everything is in its place and there are virtuosic glories in every department.

Let us start with the choir. Both choir 1 and choir 2 had three singers to each register and 4 ripieni in the centre. Apart from Jesus and the Evangelist, the soloists were integrated into the choir. Chorales were perfectly blended (often sung by heart), interjections crisp and timely, the great choruses splendidly rendered. The top notes of the sopranos were always strong and spot on. Despite few of the singers being German natives, diction was impeccable and distinct, such as in the thrilling chorus ‘Sind Blitze, sind Donner’. Few choirs can better them in this repertoire.

Belgian tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen sang the important role of the Evangelist, following in the fine footsteps of his father Werner Van Mechelen. His rendition was faultless; he has a fine career ahead of him. German-Romanian darkly hued baritone Konstantin Krimmel, singing the part of Jesus, was a new name to me. He stood in for the scheduled Florian Boesch. It helped that he looked the part. In autumn last year he joined the ensemble of Munich Opera, and he too will be a name to watch. His ‘Mache dich, mein Herze, rein’ was very fine.

It was good to see a clutch of young English male singers making the grade. Pick of the bunch was countertenor Tim Mead, but James Hall, Sam Boden and Guy Cutting were all impressive, as was German bass Tobias Berndt.

Female soloists were also of quality. I preferred the crystalline soprano of Grace Davidson to the warmer tones of Dorothee Mields.

The orchestra was simply a wonder, all experts on their baroque instruments. Seasoned performers who know this score like the backs of their hands. The two leaders, Christine Busch and Maria Roca, were stunning, as was the principal cellist in orchestra 2 (unfortunately not named in the programme), and the two oboe da caccia players in orchestra 1 (Jasu Moisio and Taka Kitazato, who used to be with the Bach Players).

Philippe Herreweghe had everything completely under control, of course, with minimal gestures. Stepping down from the podium to approach the soloist and orchestra whenever required, his gestures flowed and maintained the momentum. Never intended for concert performance, it is a long piece for everyone concerned but did not drag for a moment. A great performance of a great work.

John Rhodes

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