OP0085. LES ENFANTS À BETHLÉEM (Pierne), recorded 12 Oct., 1987, w.Lasserre de Rozel Cond. Radio-France Ensemble; Jocelyne Chamonin, Hanna Schaer, Jean-Claude Orliac, Jean-Marie Fremeau, Paul-Emile Deiber, etc. (Germany) Erato 45008, Slipcase Edition w.Elaborate 63pp Libretto-Brochure in French, English & German. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 022924500824
“You probably already have an idea of what this is going to be like. Gabriel Pierné’s music is perhaps not performed very often, and his musical legend – cantata, really – THE CHILDREN IN BETHLEHEM is probably completely unknown to most listeners. Pierné composed in a style perhaps best described as a late-romantic version of Massenet with touches of impressionistic harmonies, and in this Christmas story of three young shepherds who follow the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem to honor the birth of Christ, it is leavened with a sweet tooth, entirely apt for the season, I suppose. It might not be great music, but it is warm, glowing, deeply atmospheric and often achingly beautiful – perhaps in a manner not entirely suitable for a 21st century audience who might, possibly, require a certain ironic distance. There may not really be any particularly memorable tunes or themes here either, but it is all very sweet and appealing.
The cast consists of the three shepherds (sopranos), the Star of Bethlehem, the Virgin Mary, an ox and a donkey and the narrator who, fortunately, remains absent for much of the proceedings. All the parts are reasonably well sung, however, and the children’s chorus is mostly very good. The Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique may not always realize the ideal amount of opulence and lushness, but the playing is often beautiful under the direction of Michel de Rozel. The sound quality is fine, and overall this is, indeed, a very appealing rarity, recommended to anyone with a sweet tooth or a sense of Christmas spirit.
This ‘mystery in two parts’, LES ENFANTS À BETHLÉEM (The Children at Bethlehem), with a text by Gabriel Rigond and music by Gabriel Pierné, dates from 1907. It tells a story of 3 young shepherds, Jeanette, Nicolas & Lubin, who, after seeing the Three Wise Men traveling towards the Bethlehem to honor the Christ Child, follow along to lend their own tribute. These 3 shepherds, all sung by young sopranos, very much dominate the narrative, with separate singers representing the Star of Bethlehem, the Virgin Mary, and also the ox and donkey in the stable where the infant Jesus resided.
Pierné's music is warm-hearted and appealing from the very start, which makes its comparative neglect all the more unfortunate. Granted, Pierné is a generally forgotten figure these days, and this work has nowhere near the recognition of a comparable work like Hector Berlioz's L'ENFANCE DU CHRIST. One could argue that this is a work where the music does not overwhelm the text and completely serves it.”
- Z. D. Akron