December 2007

Berlioz - L’Enfance du Christ, Op. 25
Karen Cargill, mezzo-soprano; Yann Beuron, tenor; William Dazeley, baritone; Matthew Rose, Peter Rose, basses; Tenebrae Choir; London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis conductor
LSO Live LSO0606
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

In the course of repeating the entire Berlioz section of his discography, now with live performances, Colin Davis arrives in time for the holidays at the Trilogie sacrée that is one of the composer’s less familiar works, and, as some would have it, one of his least characteristic as well, with its focus on intimacy rather than the grand gestures of the Symphonie fantastique and The Damnation of Faust.

But the work is utterly characteristic of the brilliant creative artist whose unbounded imaginativeness led him to compelling subjects of various types -- and always to the kind of music that was both absolutely suited to its subject and expressive in a way entirely unique to him. The engagingly transparent "Trio of Young Ishmaelites" (for two flutes and harp), in a sense, sums up the character of uncontrived radiance that illumines this three-part drama. Sir Colin has the measure of this work, and his affection for it has not dimmed in the 47 years since he recorded it for L’Oiseau-Lyre -- but neither have memories of the soprano Elsie Morison, the tenor Peter Pears and the bass Joseph Rouleau, soloists in the earliest of his three recordings of the work. Their latter-day successors here have the further misfortune of being rather swamped by the orchestra in the curious focus of the new recording.

For all its virtues, which are numerous, I personally find more to enjoy, among recent issues, in the beautifully paced and no less deeply felt performance under Philippe Herreweghe, which benefits substantially from Harmonia Mundi’s spacious and more judiciously balanced recording [HMC 901632.33].