WORKS: Saint Nicolas, Op. 42
PERFORMER: Peter Pears (tenor), David Hemmings (boy soprano), Ralph Downes (organ); various choirs,?Aldeburgh Festival Choir & O/Benjamin Britten
CATALOGUE NO: 475 615
Staying with reissues, we go back nearly half a century to the 1955 recording of Saint Nicolas, Britten’s cantata for tenor, chorus and orchestra. Britten wrote the piece in 1948 for the centenary of Lancing College, where his partner Peter Pears had been a pupil. One of the principal pleasures is hearing Pears taking the title role in something like his absolute prime as a singer, before the hooty mannerisms of his later years set in. ‘My parents died’, Nicolas’s narrative describing how he devoted himself to God, shows the tenor at his finest, the tonal plenitude, clarity of diction, and carefully calibrated emotional responses are potent reminders of precisely why Britten (who conducts) found this voice such a constant source of inspiration. The contribution of the children’s choirs is another highlight, and the packaging, reproducing the original LP cover in cardboard miniature, is evocatively nostalgic.