Britten: Saint Nicholas
This Saint Nicolas is involving from the outset. Jacqueline Shave’s lean, spiky account of the violin obbligato in the Introduction sets a tensely expectant atmosphere, and it’s clear from the summoning of the Saint that Stephen Cleobury has the choral forces sharply focused, and attentive to Britten’s dynamic stipulations.
There’s some slippery ensemble in ‘The Birth of Nicolas’, but this is compensated for by the freshness and enthusiasm of the King’s boy treble voices. Andrew Kennedy is a gripping Nicolas, palpably a man of practical Christian action, though careful not to over-project operatically in the work’s explicitly dramatic episodes. The recitative-like ‘Nicolas devotes himself to God’ is specially satisfying, with Kennedy highlighting the shape and structure of the four stanzas. Tonally his voice is smooth and supple, and he has a storyteller’s subtlety and sensitivity.
A vibrantly confident reading of Hymn to St Cecilia follows, and a poignant Rejoice in the Lamb. Here I particularly relished organist Ben San Lau’s crisply intelligent, discreetly colourful playing, and tenor Gwilym Bowen’s moving For the Flowers. And sonically all three works have been superbly recorded, particularly on the separate SACD included, which has exceptionally vivid high resolution 2.0 and 5.1 mixes on its dual layers. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the resonant King’s College acoustic captured better.