Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Berlioz L'enfance du Christ

Spitalfields Festival at Shoreditch Church


BBC Symphony Orchestra / BBC Singers / Sir Andrew Davis - conductor

19 December 2006


Anna Stephany – mezzo-soprano (Mary)

Peter Wedd – tenor (Centurian and Narrator)

Owen Gilhooly – Baritone (Joseph and Polydorus)

Jonathan Lemalu – bass-baritone (Herod and Ishmaelite father)



“When I grow rich” say the bells of Shoreditch: the prospect seems as uncertain as it did when the rhyme was first coined and the words rattled through my head as I took the short walk northwards from the opulent high soaring offices and trendy shops of Bishopsgate to a darker, meaner looking area where pedestrians hug their coats around them and scuttle past each other carefully avoiding eye contact.

Appropriately it was the sound of church bells pealing out joyously that led me to Shoreditch Church for the finale of this year's Spitalfields Festival. It was a pre-Christmas celebration shorn of all glitter and tinsel, an evening of intense music making all the more powerful for its apparent simplicity.


Berlioz's Christmas oratorio is a model of devout sincerity, recounting, without sentimentality, the Holy Family's escape from Herod and flight across the desert to Egypt . Their fear, rejection and difficulties in finding shelter in a foreign land are as poignantly relevant today as in biblical times.


The highly expressive orchestral interludes contribute strongly to the atmosphere and Andrew Davis was the ideal conductor appearing almost to hold the forces of a near chamber orchestra in the palm of his hand for the delicate music that leads towards the close of Scene Three.


The BBC singers were equally impressive, entering into the full spirit of the various factions they represent – the basses deserve especial mention for their sinister portrayal of the cabalistic soothsayers – and the well known Shepherds' Farewell was a delight heard in its intended context.


The soloists were all praiseworthy. Jonathan Lemalu was effective in his transition from a vindictive Herod tormented by self doubt and dreams, to a serene and compassionate Ishmaelite elder. As Mary and Joseph, Anna Stephany and Owen Gilhooly (standing in at short notice for the indisposed Darren Jeffery) gave intelligent and accomplished interpretations and their voices blended sympathetically in their poignant Scene Three duets.


An overall performance of moving virtuosity, fortifying the audience for the rigours of “tube chaos” on the journey home.


Serena Fenwick