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Berlioz’s great “sacred trilogy”, the most important French oratorio of the nineteenth century, is distinguished in Berlioz’s oeuvre by its continued popularity since its premiere. Containing some of his most characteristic and searching music, moments of immense tenderness cheek by jowl with operatic drama, L’Enfance du Christ has an episodic nature that betrays its non-linear genesis. The most famous excerpt – the chorus containing the shepherds’ farewell to the Holy Family in Part 2 – was written first, and the rest of that part was then composed around it (stylistically, Berlioz wrote, “in the manner of the illuminations of old missals”), first performed at Christmas in 1853. Parts 3 and 1 followed, filling out the story of the massacre of the innocents and the flight into Egypt, and the entire work was premiered in December 1854. Textually, L’Enfance du Christ is an interstitial document, filling imagined gaps in St Matthew’s account (2: 1–21) of the first years of Christ’s life in Berlioz’s own libretto, written in verse. Its narrator is with us in the present day, urging us to listen to and learn from the story of the Holy Family’s travails, and the cast of characters – some known from the gospels, some invented – allows a humanity and intimacy unrivalled in oratorio.

H. Berlioz

L’Enfance du Christ

24 January 2009, 7.30pm

Cadogan Hall, London

Choir of London and Orchestra

Sir Colin Davis (conductor)

Nicolas Mulroy (tenor) - The Narrator

Catherine Hopper (mezzo-soprano) - Mary

Alexander Cadden (tenor) - Centurion

Alex Ashworth (baritone) - Joseph

Jonathan Saunders (bass-baritone) - Polydorus/Householder

George Humphreys (bass-baritone) - Herod

Berlioz L’Enfance du Christ

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