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Saint Nicola to Britten’s centenary year , Hybrid SACD – DSD

Britten: Saint Nicolas, Hymn to St. Cecilia, Rejoice in the Lamb

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Saint Nicolas caught the spirit of post-war Britain. Its libretto opens with a call, voiced ‘across the tremendous bridge of sixteen thousand years’, from a man of peace to all afflicted by division and hatred. Britten wrote the piece in 1948 for the pupils of Lancing College, testing their skills and rewarding them with memorable melodies and music of terrific energy. He conducted the work’s premiere that summer at the first Aldeburgh Festival and introduced it to King’s College Chapel a few weeks later. As so often in his compositions for children, Britten recognised the value of story-telling to focus young minds. The boy choristers and choral scholars of King’s are focus incarnate in their latest recording of the work, cutting through the reverberant acoustics of their famous medieval home like Saint Nicolas through the ways of the wicked. Stephen Cleobury’s interpretation plays to the strengths of King’s Chapel. He shapes a dramatic Saint Nicolas, hallmarked by bold effects and tonal contrasts. The album’s surround-sound disc brings out more detail than its conventional stereo companion but is less warm. King’s alumnus Andrew Kennedy, well served by both recording processes, stamps his authority on the role of Nicolas with heroic tone and forensic attention to words and their meaning. Cleobury and his singers are almost too meticulous, certainly too deliberate, in their reading of Britten’s a cappella setting of Auden’s Hymn to St Cecilia. Expressive spontaneity returns in their five-star account of Rejoice in the Lamb, unlocked by boy treble William Crane’s excellent solo and magnified by the choir’s corporate compassion for Christopher Smart’s visionary poetry.