Berlioz: L’enfance du Christ (Melbourne/Davis)

Melbourne Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Andrew Davis, et al (Chandos)

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CD_CHSA52282_Berlioz

Berlioz
L’enfance du Christ
Sasha Cooke (mezzo), Andrew Staples (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Matthew Brook (bass-baritone); Melbourne Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA 5228(2)  53:25 mins

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‘Thus it came to pass that it was an infidel who saved the Saviour’, sings Andrew Staples in the Epilogue of this extraordinary work, moving with easy grace from luminous, mystic wonder to passion and back again. Did Berlioz, himself a certified infidel, feel sympathy with the father of the Ismaelite family who welcomed the Holy Family in Egypt? Berlioz, restricting himself as he does almost throughout to a straightforward harmonic language, yet wrote in that Epilogue some of the most moving music in the whole of the 19th century.

Not that this work plays itself. Berlioz’s ‘more private style’, as Hugh Macdonald calls it in the liner notes, espouses a wide range of emotions, from Herod’s despair to the sound of frolicking lambs and Mary’s tenderness towards her child. Here giving the role to Sasha Cooke, a mezzo-soprano, rather than the usual soprano, pays happy dividends in offering a more maternal tone. But all the soloists are excellent, and thoughtful casting among the four baritones and bass-baritones has allotted the Ismaelite father to Matthew Brook, who brings just that touch of extra warmth to the role. Chorus and orchestra add further lustre to this superb enterprise, in which Andrew Davis’s love for the music shines through in every bar.

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Roger Nichols