A note on 'La Mort de Cleopatre', above all else...
Stephen Lagan | Atlanta, GA | 08/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The price alone makes this disc more than competitive with the best of any such performances, containing as it does highly enjoyable performances of each of these presented works. For those lured to this disc primarily by 'L'enface du Christ', however, I feel special atteniton must be made instead for the performance of 'La Mort de Cleopatre', which I feel for most people would tend to get overshadowed by the larger work. For indeed, 'Cleopatre' is a masterpiece. Long viewed as something of a hidden gem by both singers, conductors, and connoiseurs alike, the work is today enjoying increased popularity due to the sudden influx of star mezzo-sopranos. Indeed, today it has become a valued and featured staple in the concert repertory of Anne Sofie Von Otter, Olga Borodina, Ewa Podles, Jennifer Larmore, Michelle DeYoung and Vesselina Kasarova. And this really isn't surprising, considering that one hearing of the work reveals a composition so absolutely ripe with opportunities for a singer with a flair for the intense and a taste for the visceral to really sink her teeth into. Regarding this cd... unlike most other performances of this work, this recording features a definite soprano, Anne Pashley, over the more common mezzo. And fortunately, the lack of a chest register as imposing as those found in most of the mezzos, as well as the sopranos-with-decided-mezzo capabilities who are her recording counterparts (Jessye Norman, Rosalind Plowright), is a barely noticeable factor in Ms. Pashleys performance here. And the presence of a singer capable of cresting the summits of the soprano top notes that ARE contained in the work (which many a mezzo must desperately lunge for) is a definite advantage. Compare Pashley's attack on the phrases 'fille de Tolomei' or 'm'elencai triomphante' to that of Tourel or the later Baker. Both of the latter are so wonderful in their searingly intense ways, and if Ms. Pashley misses the extra degree of intensity found (and made famous) by these women, it is not by much, and here there is no tentative approach to these notes. But anybody who listens to any recording of this work is to be rewarded. And indeed, Janet Baker (especially the earlier recording, in my opinion, in which the top was fearless), Yvonne Minton, Jessye Norman (twice, like Baker), Jennie Tourel, Beatrice Uria-Monzon, Dunja Vejovich, and Rosalind Plowright have each brought their own special gifts to this searing and profound work on disc. There is also a live performance of the work readily available on the internet by another definite soprano, Veronique Gens, which is incredible. Ms. Gens is absolutely superb, and the feeling of a live performance only enhances things. Seek this out, if you can. But do not hesitate regarding anything involving this work- its attributes are innumerable and more than speak for themself."
Berlioz the Antiquarian?
Karl Henning | Boston, MA | 03/07/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In his Memoirs, Berlioz (almost casually) speaks to the effect of L'enfance enjoying such a spontaneous success, as to insult his earlier compositions. It is such a restrained, contemplative work -- and this seems so unusual in Berlioz -- that it almost sounds a backhanded compliment, to find that it was Brahms' favorite Berlioz score. But if we disregard comparisons like, it's much more intimate in focus than Les Troyens, it is emotionally muted compared to Romeo & Juliet, hardly anything happens in comparison to Faust -- and take the piece on its own terms, we find a beautiful mid-nineteenth-century French answer to the Bach Cantata, a piece which is simply a delight to the ear. It is the gentlest of musical jokes, that the overture to "The Flight to Egypt" begins with fugal writing (for "fugue" comes from the Latin for "flight"); but the fact is that Berlioz wrote a number of fughetto passages in the instrumental sections of this masterpiece, which seems to me to magnify the homage aspect of the work; perhaps it is the Berlioz equivalent of Brahms' (more thorough and studied, perhaps) explorations of "early music." Typically of Berlioz, for despite his fame for bombast and grand gesture he always had a marvelous ear for delicate textures, one of the piece's most striking moments is a trio for two flutes and harp. We love this recording."
Best Available Recording
Anne L. Duke | Las Vegas, NV USA | 07/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the best available recording to my mind of L'Enfance. Peter Pears is terrific and the choir is excellent as has been noted earlier. Anne Pashley rivals Minton and Baker (my favorite) as Cleopatre, although I rank Bernstein's the most exciting (I forget the soloist). Do not hesitate to buy this although if it's really cheap you want the Naxos account is surprisingly good. I must note however that [...] L'Enfance du Christ is NOT a cello concerto."
Five Stars for L'Enfance du Christ...
Anne L. Duke | 10/02/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I got this mainly for L'Enfance du Christ, and for the price, I'm satisfied. (L'Enfance was recorded in London in 1960 and Mediation, Ophelie, Sara, and Cleopatre were recorded in 1967.) Not every good recording has to be the most expensive, and this one, for the price, is worth it. However, (for the price...) there is no text/libretto provided which makes it crucially important that not only does everyone sing in French well (everyone does) but that everyone's diction in French be superb, which it is, especially in L'Enfance du Christ. This means that L'Enfance du Christ is extremely understandable--and frankly I found it more so than the other works which were nevertheless varyingly comprehensible (all somewhat understandable, at least) as of a first/second listening (only). The linear notes do provide a synnopsis of L'Enfance du Christ as well as brief descriptions of the other works and backround information as to their composition as well as a little biographical information about the composer. That, however, is it. That said, L'Enfance du Christ (and this is my first recording of it) is beautiful and, in my opinion, very well performed all senses and by everyone involved. And Sara la baigneuse, which is only about 7 minutes long, seems quite lovely (it is a setting of a poem by Victor Hugo). However, there are other recordings of L'Enfance du Christ which: 1. cost more 2. may be better (and have been favorably reviewed by people who are knowledgable which I really am not) 3. don't have the four additional works (of which La Mort de Cleopatre is the longest) 4. I hope provide the complete text/libretto in French and in English at least (as I might wind up with one of them eventually). However, I do recommed this one in the meantime, expecially if you want a good one that costs less. This really does seem to be quite a good bargain."
Samuel Stephens | TN, USA | 09/28/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There's an elusive word that I have tried to conjure to describe how this music makes me feel. The closest I can get is to say that it conveys an exquisite aching for something higher or better in life (Sibelius' 7th reaches in the same direction). Listen to the overture to Part II of this work, and to the narrator's aria "Les pelerins etant venus," and you'll know what I mean.
Berlioz was often preoccupied with death in his works, and there are few in which it does not make an appearance. With L'enfance du Christ we are spared the musical equivalent of the slaughter of Hebrew children, and Mary and Joseph make their escape successfully, and the work ends with peace and quietude.
That would seem to put "L'enfance" in the Boring Category, but that would be both unfair and inaccurate. It's true: if you're looking for spectacular and fantastical Berlioz you're better off with the Requiem, La Damnation de Faust, and the Symphonie fantastique. But that doesn't mean L'enfance du Christ is without its drama! The first part 'Herod's Dream' is a buildup of psychological tension, culminating in a fiery outburst where Herod vows to slaughter newborns in order to make sure the Christ-child is eliminated as a threat to him. From there onwards the music lessens its showy-ness and is serene and beautiful, as well as what I first described: that sense of exquisite longing found in the Overture to Part 2.
This probably isn't a piece you will love overnight, but nevertheless I encourage you to buy it for your future self. One day you'll pop it in the CD player, and your imagination switch will be flipped "ON.""