Harmonia Mundi: Edition Herreweghe

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi

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Without benefit of birthday or anniversary, Harmonia Mundi pays tribute to one of its star performers, the conductor Philippe Herreweghe, with reissues of 16 discs, made with his various performing groups in Belgium and France, of music ranging from Josquin to Kurt Weill.

All have their original programmes and presentation; in fact, nothing is changed except the numbers and the new outer sleeves. So beware: many of the original issues are still also in the shops, at full price.

The oldest recording is a 1985 disc of BACH motets, most sung chorally with instrumental doubling, but the longest, Jesu meine Freude, convincingly allocated to five solo voices.

The performances exemplify Herreweghe’s virtues of intelligent decision-making, sensible pacing, and clear text-based phrasing, smoothed out by a church acoustic (HMX 2981231).

Much more recent, and very enjoyable despite occasional lapses of balance, are two discs of BACH cantatas: one containing three surprisingly varied pieces for Christmas (HMX 2981594); the other three of the amazingly lavish cantatas for the annual services for the inauguration of the Leipzig town council (HMX 2981690).

Particularly recommendable among other discs of Baroque music is an idiomatic reading of music by JEAN GILLES, whose Requiem deservedly went on being performed for nearly a century after the composer’s premature death in 1705 (HMX 2981341).

In earlier music, Herreweghe makes a good case for two Masses in Renaissance style by MONTEVERDI, bringing unexpected expressiveness to the supposedly severe Mass on Gombert’s ‘In illo tempore’ published with the 1610 Vespers (HMX 2981355).

And there are two fine ensemble performances of ‘spiritual madrigals’, in German and Italian respectively: a selection from SCHEIN’s 1623 volume Israelis Brünnlein (HMX 2981574); and a complete account of LASSUS’s moving swansong, the penitential cycle Lagrime di San Pietro (HMX 2981483).

Equally at home in music of later periods, Herreweghe directs near-exemplary period-instrument readings of two wind Serenades by MOZART, the glorious K361 for 13 instruments and the dramatic octet K388 (HMX 2981570).

A live recording of the BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis suffers from the slightly constricted sound of the Auditorium Stravinski in Montreux, but boasts fine playing and singing, with an excellent solo team (HMX 2981557).

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A live BRAHMS German Requiem is similarly afflicted in sound, but Christiane Oelze and Gerald Finley are ideal soloists, and Herreweghe is just the man to bring out the work’s affinities with Schütz and Bach (HMX 2981608).