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Daily album review 41: An uplifting and poised Bach Christmas Oratorio from Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Ghent

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Philippe Herreweghe
Once a trail-blazer in period performance, Philippe Herreweghe is now the level-headed veteran.

The six cantatas that make up J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio are magnificent vocal and instrumental showcases as well as compelling stories. All are brought vividly to uplifting life by Belgian period-performance conductor Philippe Herreweghe and his remarkable Collegium Vocale Ghent.

bachThis DVD, recorded at a public concert with period-instrument orchestra at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels a year ago, presents in one 2-1/2-hour sitting all six cantatas, which were meant to be performed in church on different days between Christmas and Epiphany Sunday (January 6).

The performances are flawless, with spacious yet clear audio, impressive playing by the orchestra and great singing by the soloists and choir. There is nothing fancy about the visuals, which cut between the ensemble and various individuals on stage.

During the last decade, there’s been a tendency to add a bit more dramatic expression to Bach’s texts, giving the singers license to emphasize certain words or syllables both dynamically and in speed. But Herreweghe, once cutting edge in the historically informed performance field, is now the veteran standard bearer of a more restrained approach.

There’s nothing wrong with this, as the conductor keeps things moving along in a smooth arc. The music dances nicely, but also a bit briskly at times. We’re here for business, not pleasure, these musicians are telling us.

Consider this, then, a way to honour your inner Lutheran: It’s nice, but it would be unseemly to get too carried away with this spiritual message.

There are no extras on the DVD. You’ll find the EuroArts catalogue page here. And this is the trailer video:

John Terauds

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