Berlioz: L’enfance du Christ

Reviewed on Sun 21 Apr, 2019

The first part’s concluding ‘Flight into Egypt’ is a set piece rendered with undeniably exquisite finesse, the Shepherd’s Chorus a thing of crystalline beauty.

The sesquicentennial commemorations of Berlioz’s death in 1869 get under way with his ‘sacred trilogy’ L’enfance du Christ in a recording that stresses beauty of sound over depth of feeling. Andrew Davis, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and its substantial Chorus can’t be faulted for attention to poetic detail and beauty of tone, but competition is stiff, with John Eliot Gardiner (Erato) and Colin Davis (Philips) both offering a more satisfying sense of dramatic arc and religious intensity. Some will miss here the darker undercurrents that tug at the work’s pristine surface. Even so, the first part’s concluding ‘Flight into Egypt’ is a set piece rendered with undeniably exquisite finesse, the Shepherd’s Chorus a thing of crystalline beauty. The vivid solo contributions include Sasha Cooke’s characteristically luminous Mary, the affectingly human Joseph of Roderick Williams and Andrew Staples’ sympathetic and often touching narrator, with Matthew Brook’s Hérode and Ishmaelite patriarch adroitly differentiated. Recorded sound is excellent, as are Hugh Macdonald’s booklet notes.
–Michael Quinn