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2013 sees the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth and Hyperion starts celebrating early with this disc of two of the composer’s most popular choral works, both with a Christmas relevance.
The cantata Saint Nicolas tells the story of the original ‘Santa Claus’, a fourth-century saint whose acts—revitalizing three boys who had been pickled by an unscrupulous landlord being among the more dramatic—led to his canonization as patron saint of children and sailors. Britten’s lively setting is distinctly operatic, full of incident and colour—with the story brought ‘home’ through the use of congregational hymns. The part of Nicolas (here sung magnificently by Allan Clayton, already acclaimed as the heir to Peter Pears and Anthony Rolfe Johnson) is one of Britten’s great heroic tenor roles.
A Ceremony of Carols is a setting for treble voices and harp of some of the medieval texts which Britten loved so much, and is heard every Christmas in cathedrals, churches and concert halls throughout the land. This fresh, sparkling performance completes a thoroughly festive release.
Britten: A Ceremony Of Carols, Op. 28
02 Wolcum Yole!
03 There Is No Rose
04a That Yongë Child
05 As Dew In Aprille
06 This Little Babe
08 In Freezing Winter Night
09 Spring Carol
10 Deo Gracias
Britten: Saint Nicolas, Op. 42
2. The Birth Of Nicolas
3. Nicolas Devotes Himself To God
4. He Journeys To Palestine
5. Nicolas Comes To Myra & Is Chosen Bishop
6. Nicolas From Prison
7. Nicolas & The Pickled Boys
8. His Piety & Marvellous Works
9. The Death Of Nicolas
30th September 2012
“Layton’s soprano and mezzos affect a purity that sounds “boyish”...Clayton’s Nicolas is more youthful-sounding than his predecessors (Pears, Tear, Langridge), but Layton captures the mystery-play-like drama of the saint’s life story.”
10th November 2012
“A Christmas disc to savour.”
The Arts Desk
17th November 2012
“Layton’s singers do project beautifully, and their sheer security makes this Ceremony a gorgeous, invigorating experience...The moment when the adult Nicolas (beautifully sung by tenor Allan Clayton) suddenly reveals himself in The Birth of Nicolas will induce goose pimples of delight in sceptical listeners.”
“The young ladies of Trinity College Cambridge Choir here are pleasantly smooth without becoming unctuously so. Yet neither do they lack ruggedness...Clayton is magnificent”
“Layton's flowing speeds underline the dramatic sequence of the carols...All the solo performances are impeccably shaped and harpist Sally Pryce makes light work of the fiendish accompaniments...Allan Clayton makes the role of Nicolas entirely his own. What a glorious voice!...The hearty sailors, Pickled Boys and St Trinian's-like piano duettists are all on top form. This is a beautiful and deeply affecting recording.”
“The clear-toned adult voices of the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, highlight qualities in the work often missed when performed by the more usual boys' choir...Perhaps Trinity sound too well-behaved to match the boisterous enthusiasm boys typically bring...[though] the gains in terms of technical assurance and expression make this a welcome recording of a well-loved work.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.