The online audience can pause and reflect on the meaning of Christmas this festive season when Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s latest performance of Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ comes to DG Stage on 22 December 2021. The acclaimed British conductor, the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique were recorded live in concert earlier this month at the historic church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, their new London home. They were joined by a fine team of soloists, with Michael Spyres as Narrator, Ann Hallenberg as Mary, Lionel Lhote as Joseph and William Thomas as Herod. The performance will remain available to view on DG Stage until 29 December.
“This concert opens a fresh chapter in the story of the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras,” comments John Eliot Gardiner. “I fell in love with L’enfance du Christ when I was very young and have performed the complete oratorio many times since. It’s a truly remarkable composition, beautiful and tender yet also intense in the way it tells the narrative of the Holy Family’s persecution by Herod and escape to safety in Egypt. People around the world were able to watch our production of Bach’s St John Passion last Easter when it was streamed live on DG Stage. I am especially delighted that DG Stage will now broadcast the first performance to come out of our new creative partnership with St Martin-in-the-Fields and share this remarkable composition with a global audience.”
Dr Clemens Trautmann, President Deutsche Grammophon, welcomes the broadcast of an outstanding event in this year’s musical calendar. “We know that the combination of Berlioz, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his wonderful musicians will produce artistry of the highest quality. It will also reveal the compassion and human drama of L’enfance du Christ. I am certain this landmark event for DG Stage will deeply move those who watch it during the holiday season. The enthusiastic audience response to DG Stage shows the passion that people have for great performances and their desire to experience profound music-making online,” he observes.
L’enfance du Christ (“The Childhood of Christ”) began life in 1850 when Hector Berlioz sketched the outline of an Andantino for organ during a card game at a friend’s party. What started as a momentary diversion was soon turned into a choral piece, which Berlioz presented at a concert in November 1850 as a rediscovered masterpiece by the fictitious seventeenth-century composer Pierre Ducré. An audience member declared, “Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this little piece by old Ducré”. Her prejudice was doubtless informed by the fact that Berlioz’s music was routinely dismissed by critics and often booed by the famously conservative Paris public.
The “simple and charming” tune became “The Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family”, a keystone of The Flight into Egypt, a short concert piece Berlioz published in 1852 and conducted the following year during a tour of Germany. He added two further sections to the work, “Herod’s Dream” and “The Arrival at Saïs”, to create L’enfance du Christ, first performed in Paris on 10 December 1854. Berlioz’s Trilogie sacrée (“Sacred trilogy”) proved a critical and popular success, enchanting its early audiences and gaining a lasting place in the repertoire with its mix of storytelling, reflective choruses and evocative orchestral music, and its heart-melting conclusion.