Philippe Herreweghe is not really compiling a complete recording of the works of Bruckner, but he has shown a long-term interest in the Austrian composer's works. Whether the results are intriguing or damnable depends on your point of view. Even our own Jens Laurson, who has a much more extensive familiarity with the Bruckner discography, admitted of Herreweghe's recording of the seventh symphony that it was "actually rather a delight," later noting a more qualified estimation of the conductor's take on the fourth symphony, which was "a tad choppy." To state things pleasantly, the Bruckner traditionalist will probably be no happier with Herreweghe's latest Bruckner, the F minor Mass.
Bruckner, Mass in F Minor (No. 3), I. Bohlin, I. Danz, H.-J. Mammel, A. Reiter, RIAS Kammerchor, Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, P. Herreweghe
(released October 14, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901976
Bruckner, Mass in E Minor (No. 2)
In a sense, Herreweghe is doing with Bruckner what Boulez did with Wagner, circumventing a century of performance practice and move from massive density to more transparent clarity. Bringing the attitudes of the historically informed performance movement to bear on Bruckner may not be as crazy as it seems at first blush. Bruckner, while hardly a Caecilian in the reactionary sense, was as steeped in medieval and Renaissance music as almost anyone in the 19th century. Most of the difference can be summed up in the handling of the tempo markings, and Herreweghe's approach can best be described as fleet. Herreweghe's timings are shorter, movement for movement, by 25% or more when compared to a favorite recording, the Munich Philharmonic with Celibidache (also available as a DVD). This may rarify the contrapuntal structures, making them easier to follow, but it comes at the expense of a certain elemental timelessness.
The performing forces are good, but there are some intonation problems with Herreweghe's larger vocal group, the RIAS Kammerchor, whose pitch sags to an uncomfortable flatness in some unaccompanied sections, of which there are many. Baritone Alfred Reiter is a little wobbly and throaty for my taste, but soprano Ingela Bohlin brings the same clear, radiant tone that has endeared her to so many HIP conductors. It is hard to see recommending this without qualification, especially at import prices, when the remastered 2-CD Barenboim set, for example, is available at such a discount. Still, it may appeal to a listener who has not found the massive, traditional Bruckner much to his liking.