A handful of Limelight critics are spoiled for choice picking their favourite recordings.

What makes Harnoncourt’s Matthew Passion so great for me? An unmatched lineup of soloists, great orchestral playing and choral singing, but most of all the conductor’s ability to transcend matters of style and authenticity and get right to the guts of the thing: Bach’s overwhelming, universal humanity. Harnoncourt recognised that because he had it in abundance…
– Will Yeoman

Bach
St Matthew Passion
Christoph Prégardien, Matthias Goerne, Christine Schäfer, Dorothea Röschmann, Bernarda Fink, Elisabeth von Magnus, Dietrich Henschel, Markus Schäfer, Oliver Widmer, Concentus Musicus Wien, Arnold Schoenberg Choir & Wiener Sängerknaben/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Warner Classics 2564643472 (3CD)


When I travelled to Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s home in 2009 to interview him about his recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess I was charged with handing him his Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award, a big moment for Gramophone but apparently less so for Harnoncourt. He scooped the figurine out of my hand, shrugged, and said ‘I’ll put it with the others’.
– Philip Clark

Beethoven
Piano Concertos
Pierre-Laurent Aimard p, Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Warner Classics 0927473342 (3CD)


There’s open, subtle, and passionate Mozart concerto performances here, with a real cross-generational excitement coming from the meeting of Harnoncourt and Lang Lang. Harnoncourt directs the Wiener Philharmoniker with aplomb, making this a recording to come back to time and time again.
– Paul Ballam-Cross

Mozart
Piano Concertos
Lang Lang p, Wiener Philharmoniker/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Sony 0888430825321 (2CD)


People tended to think of Harnoncourt as an early music man but these electrifying performances of Dvořák’s orchestral masterpieces show him as a complete all rounder. The dramatic sensibilities that shaped his Bach Passions are all here, coupled with that gimlet-like ear for orchestral sonorities. Turn up loud and prepare to be thrilled and chilled.
– Clive Paget

Dvořák
Symphonic Poems
Royal Concertgebouw/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Warner Classics 2564602212 (2CD)


The 1972 recording of Cantata BWV147 is as representative of his unique style as anything is. This joyful music really shines with Harnoncourt’s phrasing, alternately jaunty and exalted. It also reminds us of his landmark project of recording the complete Bach cantatas, the first conductor to do so. We owe him a great deal.
– Phil Carrick

Bach
Cantata No 147 (Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben)
Concentus Musicus Wien, Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Teldec 0630125322


For all his early pioneering work with Bach interpretation the recording that had the most profound effect on me was his 1977 account of Vivaldi’s Opus 8 concerti including the now over-familiar Four Seasons. At a time when modern-instrument chamber orchestras chugged along with literal readings of idly pretty sewing-machine-baroque, Harnoncourt’s reading of a bare-bones score was a revelatory exposé of the misunderstood aesthetic of the Italian Baroque style more than a decade before Italian ensembles woke up and claimed their heritage. It was a shock to hear the wild fluctuations of tempi, grand rhetorical gestures and for once hear the programmatic elements to the fore. The repeated viola in the Largo of Spring barked like a dog, the Autumn hunt galloped through the fields with explosive gun shots, the Largo of Winter at a daringly brisk tempo; its pizzicato accompaniment sounded like a rain-shower rather than a leaking tap. If you admire the Il Giardino Armonico or Concerto Italiano accounts do try searching for this and hear where it all started.

Vivaldi
The Four Seasons
Warwick Arnold

 

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