Concert Review

Bach Johannes Passion Philippe Herreweghe directing Collegium Vocale Gent with soloists. Tonhalle, Zurich 15 February 2000

Philippe Herreweghe is one of the finest Bach exponents and the opportunity to hear his performance of the John Passion in Zurich was not to be missed. It was given without a break - two hours. An abiding memory of his series of Bach masses at St John's in London was of the orchestral leader, Sirkka-Lisa Kaakinen, going round with her violin tuning each member of the Collegium Vocale baroque orchestra individually. The soloists included English singers, Deborah York (soprano) and Mark Padmore (tenor), an admirable Evangelist. I was particularly taken by the contralto, Annette Market.

The Tonhalle is a fine, ornate 19th C. concert hall in the admired shoebox style, with a new organ behind a traditional organ case. The acoustics are variable and probably better in the gallery. Near the back of the flat stalls, under overhanging balconies, the baroque orchestra and small choir of about sixteen singers were a little muted. I was not able to hear the theorboe well, nor are the delicate tones of baroque flutes ideally heard in a 2000 seat concert hall, and there were some odd effects, such as one choral soprano unduly prominent. But companions sitting elsewhere did not have these reservations and the capacity audience were unreservedly enthusiastic after this lovingly prepared small scale, 'authentic' baroque style interpretation, which has only quite recently become the new norm, and was still unfamiliar to many present. Afterwards, Herreweghe complied with the CD signing ritual, which appears to be obligatory, but this blatant commercialism still struck an uneasy chord after a sacred Passion. Bach will sell a lot of CDs this year!

Herreweghe & his Gent team recorded the Johannes Passion on Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1264/5. I have previously reviewed for MotW, and recommended strongly, the more recent Virgin Veritas recordings by these forces of the minor J. S. Bach masses.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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