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Britten: Saint Nicolas, Op 42 / Britten, Pears

Release Date: 09/14/2004 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 4756156   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Peter PearsDavid Hemmings
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aldeburgh Festival OrchestraAldeburgh Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Benjamin Britten's cantata Saint Nicolas is one of the more remarkable creations in 20th century music--for its subject (stories of the 4th-century Bishop's life), its structure and performing forces (combining various choirs of adults, children, and congregation/audience), and its masterful use of original music, thematic devices, hymn tunes, tenor solo, piano duet, organ, strings, and percussion. As with many of Britten's compositions, there's nothing else in the repertoire quite like it--except a couple of other works by Britten himself. With dramatic moments that recall the composer's operas and music that reminds us of the innocence and exuberance of A Ceremony of Carols, Saint Nicolas deserves wider attention. And here is the original Read more 1955 recording, with Peter Pears as tenor soloist and Britten leading the performance, reissued as part of Decca's Heritage series.

Although the mono sound is a bit confined and oddly balanced at times (depending on which combinations of instruments or voices are involved), it's a performance well worth owning, for unlike any other recording it projects a real sense of occasion and comes as close as we can expect to capturing the "fresh and unrestrained" quality of the childrens' voices that Britten intended. And it has Pears at his most vibrant, ardent-voiced, and, well, Pears-like, along with the assurance of Britten's creative hand in all facets of the interpretation.

An eariler incarnation of this recording (from 1990) paired Saint Nicolas with another Britten cantata, Rejoice in the Lamb, nicely filling a single CD; this one presents only the former work as it was originally released, complete with its cool-retro LP packaging. Unfortunately, this means that the liner notes (reproduced inside the fold-out cover) are virtually microscopic. At mid-price, this certainly isn't a bad deal, and this is definitely the performance to own; however, the alternatives (only two) are more than respectable. The Naxos (reissue of the 1996 Collins Classics recording) does not employ the children's choirs that Britten specified but otherwise is very solid and includes Psalm 150 and the rarely heard Christ's Nativity; the Hyperion recording (from 1988) offers fine performances (including children's choirs) and rounds out the program with the Hymn to Saint Cecilia. Unless you can find a copy of the previous issue of Britten's version (the sound is identical to this "new" reissue), then this remains a first choice--just don't forget your magnifying glass.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Saint Nicolas, Op. 42 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Peter Pears (Tenor), David Hemmings (Boy Soprano)
Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra,  Aldeburgh Festival Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; England 
Venue:  Aldeburgh Parish Church, England 
Notes: Aldeburgh Parish Church, England (04/13/1955 - 04/14/1955) 

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