Serving up Christmas treats with Berlioz

Thursday 8 December 2011, 10:29

Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton

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The Christmas tree is up in Hoddinott Hall! Many sections of the orchestra are arranging Christmas outings, and the festive cheer is bringing much needed relief to the end of what has been a particularly busy winter season.

It's all got a bit Christmassy musically too. Friday evening will see the commencement of our Christmas music celebrations, with a performance of Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ with our principal conductor Thierry Fischer at St David's Hall.

Scored for a relatively small orchestra, chorus and soloists, this is a very different Berlioz than the one we encountered last season in Romeo and Juliet. Where Romeo and Juliet was quite over the top and grandiose, L'Enfance du Christ, by comparison, is an intimate work. I find it very beautiful, especially the famous Shepherd's Farewell chorus. Our chorus are doing a wonderful job - they are going to sound fabulous on Friday evening.

Incidentally, our mezzo-soprano soloist is Anna Stephany who competed in the 2009 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Aficionados of Cardiff Singer may find it interesting to hear how her voice has developed since then - I think she is very well suited to the role of Mary in this work.

When we performed Romeo and Juliet last April, there were a couple of passages that I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to negotiate. Technically, L'Enfance du Christ does not throw up quite so many stressful moments. However, that is not to say it is a work without difficulties.

Pages 7-10 of the viola score are very tricky (I have had my metronome out again), and the viola section is featured quite prominently as a voice of anguish (no jokes, thank you very much) in the latter half of the work. While that particular number is not technically difficult, it is very exposed and in the upper part of the viola's tessitura - you don't want to be the person who is a little bit out of tune as it would ruin the whole effect.

The real challenge of this work, in my opinion, is to bring the right colour to each movement. The work is, in essence, a story telling and the music has to serve the needs of the story.

My random geeky fact for today is that L'Enfance du Christ contains one of Berlioz's only works of chamber music, a trio for two flutes and harp. I haven't heard it in rehearsals yet, but a bit of flute and harp is always a nice combination! Apparently, Berlioz didn't approve of the showy, florid writing for solo flute many of his contemporaries were indulging in, hence the inclusion of two flutes and the more lyrical, rather than flashy lines in this trio.

I'm like a child when it comes to Christmas - I look forward to getting on the plane home, seeing my family, eating too much and going to carol services. I think Friday night's concert will be a lovely way to declare Christmas 2011 officially started!

The orchestra will perform Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ at St David's Hall, Cardiff, tomorrow (Friday 9 December) starting at 7.30pm. For tickets and information, call 0800 052 1812.

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