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Benjamin Britten: Saint Nicolas, Op. 42

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars St. Nicholas, Not Jolly Old St. Nick 18 Feb. 2014
By Cristina Doria - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
My introduction to this work was hearing the closing hymn on the radio. That hymn is still my favorite part, but the rest is also worth listening to. I find that I instantly like some of Britten's music, such as the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, or the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. Some of his other music I find really hard to get into, such as the rest of the opera Peter Grimes. This cantata isn't quite as easy to understand as the Young Person's Guide, but it's a lot easier to get into than Peter Grimes.

The St. Nicholas in this cantata is the Christian Bishop who lived in ancient times, whose legendary generosity gave rise to "Jolly Old St. Nick" and Santa Claus. The libretto depicts the saint as the committed Christian that he presumably was in real life, and it includes some of the legends that grew up around him.

I chose this recording of the work because the composer conducts it, the composer's long time companion and collaborator Peter Pears sings the part of Nicholas, and the chorus is the Aldeburgh Festival Chorus, for whom it was composed. This leads to two issues which might be problems for some people but which did not bother me. First, it's an amateur chorus, which is not as polished as, say, the Cambridge Singers under John Rutter. I've sung in amateur choirs all my life, so it's not a problem for me. Second, the recording was originally a vinyl LP, so the sound isn't as good as on modern recordings. I grew up listening to vinyl LP's so I'm okay with that.

This work is worth listening to, and I've played the recording a number of times. It is certainly accessible. However, I get more enjoyment from some of his other works, such as the Courtly Dances from Gloriana or the Ceremony of Carols. (The Christmas season is not complete unless I hear the Ceremony at least once, either live or on the radio.)
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