Berlioz is a composer who divides public opinion, hence a barely half full hall for his oratorio L’enfance du Christ performed by the SCO with conductor Emmanuel Krivine. It started dramatically enough with a single chord before the narrator (tenor Bernard Richter) set the scene against a filigree-textured string backdrop. The impetus though was quickly lost as Herod (the reedy-voiced bass Jérôme Varnier) told of his plans to kill all newborns after a lackluster exchange with the male chorus of Soothsayers. Mary (Christianne Stotijn) and Joseph (Edwin Crossley-Mercer), were suitably alarmed but the quality of their singing was underwhelming.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra ***
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Part one ended with an off-stage chorus of angels behind the dress circle, who had to rush downstairs to the main stage for part two, the Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family. This wait seemed to interrupt the flow of the concert, with Krivine restarting this section at a brisker tempo. Once things settled down, the SCO Chorus sang with conviction and the pastoral mood was heightened by some lyrical cor anglais passages.
By part three, the erratic and bitty nature of Berlioz’s work was becoming apparent and even the orchestra’s exacting attention to detail, particularly in the woodwind contributions, could not cover the cracks. The lengthy trio for two flutes and harp, while superbly played by the soloists, was completely out of place and interrupted the narrative flow. After this uneven journey, Berlioz delivers a moving Epilogue, and Richter and the chorus brought the story to a beautifully hushed conclusion.