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The December 24 broadcast of the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge has become a British institution.

But at the end of this revelatory Britten year, Christmas also means Saint Nicolas. His 50-minute dramatic cantata should be far better known, and this new recording on King’s own label does it superb justice.

Recounting the cradle-to-grave story of the patron saint of children and mariners (topics close to Britten’s heart), it is full of strikingly simple but subtly achieved effects – a sequence of haunting tenor solos (Andrew Kennedy), the incorporation of such well-known congregational hymns as “All People that on Earth do Dwell”, which Britten excitingly re-harmonised, and the juxtaposition of children’s and adult choirs in an ecstatic “Alleluia”.

The disc includes equally polished performances of two of Britten’s most popular choral works, Hymn to St Cecilia and Rejoice in the Lamb.

Britten

Saint Nicolas

(Stephen Cleobury/Britten Sinfonia)

King’s College

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