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Britten: Saint Nicolas; A Ceremony of Carols

Crouch End Festival Chorus; BBC Concert Orchestra/David Temple, et al (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Saint Nicolas, Op. 42*; A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28**
*Marc le Brocq (tenor), **Sally Pryce (harp); Crouch End Festival Chorus; BBC Concert Orchestra/David Temple
Signum Classics SIGCD649   71:12 mins

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Here at last is a St Nicolas that offers a real alternative to Matthew Best’s superb Hyperion recording. Tenor Mark Le Brocq is a fine sounding Nicolas: at his commanding best in the saint’s opening address, he also uses a fine lyric tone, most effectively for ‘and love was satisfied’. Admittedly, Best’s excellent if lighter-voiced Anthony Rolfe Johnson is yet more sensitive to the dynamic inflections of ‘O God! We are all weak’.

Temple’s excellent choirs include a winningly enthusiastic children’s choir (making Best’s sound positively reticent). The Crouch End Festival Chorus are characterful, though its women, while fresh voiced, are more mature than the ‘breathy’ adolescent girls Britten originally wrote for (and rather mischievously assigned the role of ‘Winds and tempests’!); yet their response as mothers to the piping voices of the Three Small Boys is a truly heart-catching moment.

A Ceremony of Carols, originally intended for women’s voices, suits them well. They do not match the technical polish of the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge (Hyperion), but demonstrate a keener response to the texts, as in ‘There is no rose’, and show no shortage of vigour in ‘Deo gratias’. Harpist Sally Pryce plays beautifully, though the rapt Interlude ends with an incorrect note.

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Daniel Jaffé