Britten: St Nicolas; Psalm 150; Christ’s Nativity

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COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: St Nicolas; Psalm 150; Christ’s Nativity
PERFORMER: Philip Langridge (tenor)Tallis Chamber Choir, New London Children’s Choir, BBC Singers, English CO, London Schools SO/ Steuart Bedford
CATALOGUE NO: 14832
A blithely youthful homage, this, to the patron saint of children. The earliest work on the disc, the posthumously published ‘Christmas suite’ Christ’s Nativity, dates from the 17-year-old Britten’s first year at the Royal College of Music; while its two companion pieces, the dramatic cantata St Nicolas and Psalm 150 (joyously celebrated here by the New London Children’s Choir and London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra), although written at approximately 15-year intervals thereafter, still sport their old school ties, having been composed as centenary offerings to Lancing College, Sussex, and South Lodge, Lowestoft, where Peter Pears and Britten spent their respective teens.

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Pears, of course, sang Nicolas in the cantata’s 1948 Aldeburgh premiere. Miraculously, Philip Langridge here divests himself of his great precursor’s all-enveloping mantle as easily as he obeys the chorus’s opening summons to ‘strip off your glory, Nicolas, and speak!’ Few tenors ‘speak’ as fluently or fervently as Langridge, who manages to make the saint’s two inwardly tortured soliloquies as much high points of the story as the marvellous reappearance of the three ‘Pickled Boys’, warbling their radiant Alleluias through the assembled throng. Such off-stage entries and ‘gallery’ voices are here nicely caught, and if the culminating congregational hymn fails to achieve the overpowering impact of comparable moments in Noye’s Fludde, that’s no fault either of the excellent choir and orchestra or of Steuart Bedford’s pointedly idiomatic conducting. Mark Pappenheim