BERLIOZ: L’Enfance du Christ – Yann Beuron, narrator/ Veronique Gens, sop./ Stephan Loges – Joseph/ Alastair Miles – Father of the family/ Swedish Radio Sym. Orch. & Choir/ Robin Ticciati – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 440 (2 discs), 92 minutes [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Here is a late Christmas entry, but with recordings like this better late than never. With all due respect to the reigning conductorial wunderkind of the moment, Gustavo Dudamel, who is certainly getting all the press, as fine as he is I don’t think he has a thing on Robin Ticciati, another up-and-coming youngster (now 30) who is making a big splash everywhere he goes. He has just completed his fifth year as head of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and begins as director at Glyndebourne this year, which should prove quite exciting. He counts Colin Davis and Simon Rattle as his mentors, and is certainly on track to equal those illustrious men, especially in his ongoing Berlioz series, where he might just surpass Colin Davis when all is said and done.
Strangely, the genesis of Berlioz’s sacred triptych began when he was at a party in 1850, playing cards, which he detested. Someone asked him to inscribe an album, on which he put a four-part organ andantino. This small little signing became the basis for one of his most popular and enduring works, the Nativity of Christ, though it would be some time until its completion. The composer had been in a bit of a funk ever since Damnation of Faust was not received as well as he had hoped, and for a number of years was really known only as a sharp-tongued critic and librarian of the Paris Conservatory. It was not until 1854 that the work received its premiere, and to great acclaim. Gone were the bombastic moments of Faust, and especially Fantastic Symphony which had launched his career 24 years earlier, and most surprising was his sincerity, replete with devotion in a work of unparalleled piety. It ranks among the most tender music he ever penned, and stands as a landmark of Nineteenth century devotional music, despite the composer’s own rather murky convictions about his faith—we aren’t really sure where he stood in such things as it seems he was constantly evolving his beliefs.
This is a spectacular recording in sumptuous surround sound, and the orchestra and soloists are terrific in every way, though the competition in the more classic recordings is formidable and probably still stand. Linn was good enough to give Ticciati a wonderful Mary in Veronique Gens, and the three men are hardly her inferiors in a finely wrought, beautifully paced production. But this is a more modern take in terms of less vibrato and a leaner soundscape, so those still attached to the dreamier side of this score won’t want to be without Cluytens and yes, Davis.