Berlioz: L’enfance du Christ

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: L’enfance du Christ
PERFORMER: Jean Rigby (mezzo-sop), John Aler, Peter Evans (tenor), Alastair Miles, Gwynne Howell (bass), Gerald Finley, Robert Poulton (baritone); St Paul’s Cathedral Choristers, Corydon Singers & Orchestra/Matthew Best
With a broadly phrased prologue and a crisp fugal Marche nocturne, Best promises in his L’enfance du Christ ‘a more operatic treatment than it sometimes receives’. It is not often, of course, that the conductor himself is capable of a pretty mean Scarpia. But the approach is not eccentric; it takes the work as it is. Miles’s dark-hued Herod imperils the pitch as he plans to massacre the innocents, but (if one can accept the vibrato) his tormented aria is magnificent. The duet of Mary and Joseph feels perilously slow, although only a little below Berlioz’s prescribed tempo: Rigby seems to have difficulty sustaining the lines. With Finley and Howell an appealing pair of fathers and good solo, choral and orchestral contributions, Part 3 is well sustained, as is the glowing epilogue. Nothing could be less operatic than Part 2, kernel of the oratorio; the performance is appropriately straightforward and is overall as much meditative as operatic. Both stylish and enjoyable, the recording is surely the best available at present. It has a wide dynamic range: it may be difficult to find the optimum volume setting, but this is as it should be in Berlioz. Julian Rushton