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Len Mullenger:

L'Enfance du Christ op.25

Susan Graham (Mary), Francois Le Roux (Joseph), John Mark Ainsley (Narrator), Philip Cokorinos (Herod), Andrew Wentzel (The Father), Gordon Getz (Centurion) and Marc Belleau (Polydorus).
Sara la Baigneuse op 11 (triple chorus and Orchestra).
Helene (from 9 Melodies op.2 No. 2) for male chorus and orchestra
La Belle Voyageuse mezzo soprano and orchestra
Quartetto e coro dei maggi Choir
Chant sacre tenor solo, choir and orchestra
Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Choir - Charles Dutoit
DECCA 458 915-2 [119.44] recorded digitally in 1993 in Eglise St. Eustache, Montreal.

This recording of Berlioz's sacred trilogy has languished in Decca's vaults since 1995 and has only now surfaced to see the light of day. Previous releases in Dutoit's Berlioz series for Decca have sometimes been received with mixed feelings with some of the issues receiving quite luke-warm notices. This may be the reason for the current issue being held back but it is not in any way relevant.

I am happy to say that here we have an issue which can take on the best of the opposition and come out of the comparison with flying colours. Decca has given Dutoit another one of its superb recordings in its favourite Montreal location, and adding to this an excellent selection of soloists and a choir and orchestra on top form, you can't go wrong.

The main problem with some of Dutoit's earlier issues in this series is an occasional feeling of non commitment allied to a low voltage playing style. L'Enfance du Christ is a work at the opposite end of the spectrum to this idea and so any concern we might have just does not surface. The playing of the orchestra is lustrous and highly accurate and the top drawer Decca recording does much to enhance this effect.

One of the features of previous vocal sets has been Dutoit's preference for French singers taking all parts. This issue does not follow this trend, with the lead parts being taken by British, American, German, as well as a small number of French singers. I am afraid I do not feel aggrieved as some reviewers do, if the vocal artists are not native to the nationality of the work, so I have enjoyed the performances of all the current cast, without exception.

We have here the opportunity to experience the gentle unfolding of the story of Christ's childhood without a single raw sound or voice. This issue, whilst not necessarily displacing the Davis version on Philips with Janet Baker, or indeed the earlier version with April Cantelo also on Decca, now sweeps the board in terms of recording quality and is not compromised artistically either.

If this were not enough, Decca also includes five short vocal pieces to supplement the set for various combinations of choir, soloists and orchestra which enhance this issue greatly. I have spent some time listening to this set and am happy to report that it has given nothing but pleasure.

John Phillips


            • zzzzSummary A new version of Berlioz's religious tableau, beautifully sung and played by Dutoit which now resides at the top of recommended versions of this trilogy.

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