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St Nicolas / Christ's Nativity

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, November 18, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

Composed in a remarkably fecund period following the success of Peter Grimes, the 1948 cantata St Nicolas wedded amateur chorus with professional soloists and string orchestra in a highly effective re-telling of the story. The unusual forces, together with Britten’s ever-fresh musical ideas, create a work of charm and considerable dramatic impetus. The companion work on this CD is the rarely-heard student work Christ’s Nativity of 1931, featuring a sequence of texts carefully chosen to unify this short suite. These fresh and atmospheric accounts were originally released on Collins Classics.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (November 18, 2003)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • Run Time: 67 minutes
  • ASIN: B0000DJEM4
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,020 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 13, 2004
Format: Audio CD
I have particular interest in the main piece on this CD, Britten's 'St. Nicolas' cantata, because a choir I sing in will be doing it later this year with our local professional chamber orchestra; interestingly, a previous performance of it by this group was so successful that a repeat has been requested. Britten, of course, wrote the work for amateur chorus and a professional tenor soloist, in this case his long-time lover, Peter Pears. Enough time has now passed that, although Pears/Britten recorded the work, it is appropriate and welcome that new forces give it a go. Philip Langridge, the tenor here, is actually a better-sounding singer than Pears, although no one would ever question Pears's musicianship. And I say that even as I am one of those who long since have found Pear's idiosyncratic voice to be more than acceptable. This performance was issued earlier (mid-1990s, I think) on the now-defunct Collins Classics label. Naxos apparently has obtained license to re-release a number of Collins Classics recordings of Britten's music; I've raved about earlier releases of 'Albert Herring' and 'The Turn of the Screw.' Steuart Bedford, the conductor on all these releases, is certainly the reigning Britten conductor, having succeeded Britten at the helm of the Aldeburgh Festival.
'St. Nicolas' tells the story of an early church saint, Nicolas, the 4th-century Bishop of Myra, not 'jolly Saint Nick' but another fellow entirely. Not much is known about him so librettist Eric Crozier had leeway to invent much, drawing on the legends surrounding him. Among the interesting episodes is the charming (and weirdly grisly) story of 'Nicolas and the Pickled Boys.' Most moving is the penultimate episode, 'His Piety and Marvellous Works.' Most immediately appealing is the jaunty 'Birth of Nicolas.
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Format: Audio CD
How can the simple man hiding under or behind the saint or the bishop, behind the robe, the mitre and the cross of gold be evoked, celebrated? The front of the bishop hides the secret heart of the man. But at the same time celebrating the life of a saint is always a perilous game because the humility of the saint should lead him to refuse being celebrated, and yet we all have some vanity in our hearts.

The birth of Nicolas has something mysterious and the second track is typical about this miracle that the birth of the saint is and the evocation of the miracle is punctuated by seven repetitions of “God be Glorified!” the first six sung by a child and the last, the seventh instance sung by a male tenor, like the real birth of the adult saint in the new-born. The Holy week of the creation or the Holy week of the Passion is thus realized in this final male voice crowning the whole week. This evocation of Nicolas’s birth is quite similar to that of Jesus though in a maybe less poor environment since Nicolas has a crib whereas Jesus only had a manger.

The third track shows Nicolas getting cut off and away from the worldly artifacts of life to dedicate himself to God. He is an early orphan and leaves his parents’ house early. He then sells his land to feed the poor but he wants to go beyond plain charity and reach love, meaning love for God and that leads him to cut himself off from the world: “I cast away all things that could distract my mind from full devotion to His will.” Yet this submission is not enough to satisfy God and he makes God his “only Master, friend and guide.” The music is absolute humility, softness, a soft string tune behind the voice that grows stronger, more imposing, forbidding even.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
As a working chorister, I practice the need to have crisp diction. On this recording, hardly a word could be understood.
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Format: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
Excellent tenor, luscious choruses. The various colors required by each movement are respected. It is the best recording I found.
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