Harmonia Mundi: Selection

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi

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Selection is a group of 20 titles, reduced to mid-price in a limited edition until the end of the year, and Philippe Herreweghe features heavily.

Two of PURCELL’s Odes for St Cecilia’s Day (HMX 2981643) use the small forces of the Collegium Vocale, and favour fast, dancing speeds and transparent textures.

It certainly blows the cobwebs away, though the bigger choruses need more weight, and some of the solos are under-characterised.

No reservations about the quality of the solo singing of Andreas Scholl in BACH’s Cantatas Nos 35, 54 and 170 (HMX 2981644), where he spins a beautiful, golden legato line, but doesn’t neglect the drama inherent in the music.

Herreweghe’s small orchestra really fits the stylistic bill here, as does the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées which he uses in later music: MOZART’s C minor Mass (HMX 2981393) has an easy authenticity, and is distinguished by the presence of Christiane Oelze and Jennifer Larmore among the soloists.

When it comes to BEETHOVEN’s Choral Symphony (HMX 2981687), Herreweghe’s fast tempi rob the music of its dignity. The slow movement in particular misses out on inner strength, even though there are some ravishing sounds from the period instruments.

Herreweghe is better suited to the more open-air world of MENDELSSOHN’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (HMX 2981502), where the clarity of the performance matches Mendelssohn’s miraculous orchestral characterisation.

Even more enjoyable is Nuits d’été (HMX 2981522), where every bar reveals BERLIOZ’s astonishing orchestral invention, and Brigitte Balleys’s cool singing is all the better for being understated.

Apart from Herreweghe, other highlights of this series include René Jacobs in COUPERIN’s Leçons de Ténèbres (HMX 2981133). It’s good to be reminded of his earthy countertenor voice, so different from the purity of Scholl, who turns up again in the company of Ensemble 415 (HMX 2981571) in a VIVALDI programme where he shows that he’s just as stylish in Italian as German.

The main work is the Stabat mater, but I relished the first aria from the cantata Cessate, omai cessate, with its deliciously plinking accompaniment for pizzicato strings. Ensemble 415 features in another Stabat mater, by BOCCHERINI for string quintet and soprano (HMX 2981378).

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The style is decidedly secular, and Agnès Mellon gives a reticent performance, though the work isn’t much more than a curiosity. And, before moving on, a brief nod to William Christie’s vigorous reading of CHARPENTIER’s Te Deum (HMX 2981298); and a riotous collection of Rabelaisian French music from the Ensemble Clément Janequin (HMX 2981453).