Proms / Berlioz: The Childhood of Christ - Royal Albert Hall / Radio 3

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The Independent Culture
The exquisite discretion of Berlioz's sacred trilogy The Childhood of Christ makes much religious art seem vulgar by comparison. It was an astonishing feat for a composer of such wild and startling vision to create an expressive world of calm luminosity while remaining absolutely true to himself.

The work's intimate style would seem to suit it to a smaller auditorium than the Albert Hall. Yet the gentle pastel shades and pastoral atmosphere acquired a touchingly ancient resonance in the broad acoustic, while the off-stage effects were immeasurably enriched.

David Atherton and the BBC SO and Chorus remained faithful to the unique subtlety of Berlioz's conception - a music- drama from which all hints of the apocalyptic and the romantically personalised have been expunged, and in which the soloists are characterised devotionally. Martyn Hill was an ideally concentrated narrator, Ann Murray a chaste, intense Mary and David Wilson-Johnson a darkly troubled Herod.

The problems of sustaining the gentle intensities and contrasts in such an understated work are considerable, but the performance unfolded with unassuming grace and, when Berlioz brought us to ourselves for a final meditation, the spell was complete.

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