2013 sees the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth and Hyperion starts celebrating early with this disc of two of the composer’s most popular choral works, both with a Christmas relevance. The cantata Saint Nicolas tells the story of the original ‘Santa Claus’, a fourth-century saint whose acts—revitalizing three boys who had been pickled by an unscrupulous landlord being among the more dramatic—led to his canonization as patron saint of children and sailors. Britten’s lively setting is distinctly operatic, full of incident and colour—with the story brought ‘home’ through the use of congregational hymns. The part of Nicolas (here sung magnificently by Allan Clayton, already acclaimed as the heir to Peter Pears and Anthony Rolfe Johnson) is one of Britten’s great heroic tenor roles.
Synopsis: A solo chorister singing Once In Royal David's City begins this traditional celebration of Christmas from the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge. The story of the Nativity is told in the familiar words of the King James Bible together with Christmas poems by Kevin Crossley-Holland, WH Auden and Charles Causley. The famous Chapel choir, conducted by Stephen Cleobury, sings carols old and new, including such favourites as The Sussex Carol, In Dulci Jubilo, Ding Dong Merrily On High, The First Nowell, I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing By, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, Bethlehem Down and O Come, All Ye Faithful. – BBC