Con­tinue the jour­ney…

We sug­gest works to explore a er Ber­lioz’s L’en­fance du Christ

BBC Music Magazine - - Building A Library -

Four years af­ter the premiere of L’en­fance du Christ, Camille Saint-saëns – 23 years old, but al­ready a for­mi­da­bly ac­com­plished com­poser – penned his ten-move­ment Christ­mas Ora­to­rio in just un­der a fort­night. Scored for soloists, choir, strings, harp and or­gan, and with texts drawn from var­i­ous books of the Bi­ble, it of­fers a tran­quil, re­flec­tive ac­count of the Na­tiv­ity. (Mainz Bach Choir and Orches­tra/hell­mann;

Pro­fil PH05023)

Com­posed in his teens, Bizet’s Clo­vis et Clotilde is both lyri­cal and charm­ing

Saint-saëns was pos­i­tively an­cient, mind, com­pared to Ge­orges Bizet who was still in his teens when his can­tata Clo­vis et Clotilde won him the Prix de Rome in 1857. The work is based on the true story of Clo­vis, a fifth-cen­tury Frank­ish king who was con­vinced by his wife, Clotilde, to con­vert to Chris­tian­ity and was bap­tised on Christ­mas Day. As the Prix de Rome judges clearly agreed, it is both lyri­cal and re­ally rather charm­ing. (Orchestre Na­tional de Lille/casadesus; Naxos 8.572270)

While it’s tempt­ing to think of César Franck spend­ing ev­ery wak­ing hour weav­ing his chro­matic magic in a Parisian or­gan loft, he did, of course, ven­ture into other mu­si­cal ter­ri­tory. Com­pleted in 1879, his ora­to­rio Les Béat­i­tudes is, at nearly two hours long, one of his most sub­stan­tial works, and isn’t short on drama. As the ti­tle im­plies, the text is taken from Je­sus’s Ser­mon on the Mount as told in St Matthew’s Gospel. (Gächinger Kan­torei Stuttgart/rilling; Hänssler HAEN98548)

The Beat­i­tudes also make a fleet­ing ap­pear­ance in ‘Af­ter Epiphany’, the cen­tral part of Chris­tus, Franz Liszt’s large-scale ora­to­rio that re­ceived its first per­for­mance in 1873. As Liszt’s nar­ra­tive takes us from Christ’s birth to his death, Parts I and III – ‘Christ­mas Ora­to­rio’ and ‘Pas­sion and Res­ur­rec­tion’ – do pretty much what they say on the tin. (Gächinger Kan­torei Stuttgart/rilling; Hänssler HAEN98121)

Fi­nally, for an­other work which de­votes its at­ten­tions en­tirely to the events of the Na­tiv­ity, try Der Stern von Beth­le­hem (‘The Star of Beth­le­hem’), an 1890 Christ­mas can­tata by the Ger­man Josef Rhein­berger. The muted open­ing on bas­soon and strings sets the tone of the work nicely – though there are mo­ments of ebul­lience, this is, like the Saint-saëns, largely placid, peace­ful stuff. (Di­et­rich Fis­cherdieskau et al; Bavar­ian Ra­dio Cho­rus/ Heger; Carus CARUS83111)

Christ­mas charms: Saint-saëns’s ora­to­rio is a gen­tle af­fair

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