a concert given on
Saturday 7 December 2013

in St John's Church
Preston Village,  Brighton


Brighton Orpheus Choir

with the Musicians of All Saints

Stephen Brown (tenor)

Nicola Grunberg and Judith Maddison
(piano duet)

conducted by Stella Hull

Benjamin Britten
Saint Nicolas

Ariel Ramírez
Navidad Nuestra

and more Christmas music

Britten's Saint Nicolas

Saint Nicolas is a cantata with music by Benjamin Britten and text by Eric Crozier, written in 1948. It was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of Lancing College, Sussex. Its first official performance took place at the College in July 1948, though in fact it had already received an unofficial premičre six weeks earlier, at the opening concert of the very first Aldeburgh Festival. Britten himself conducted both these performances, with the part of Nicolas sung by Peter Pears, himself a former pupil of Lancing College. The piece is scored for chorus, treble soloists, tenor solo, piano duet, organ, percussion and strings.

The cantata tells the story of the life and achievements - some real but mostly legendary - of Nicolas, the 4th century bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor.

The chorus asks Nicolas to speak to them across the ages and tell his story.

The birth of Nicolas
Sopranos and altos, representing children, sing of the birth and childhood. At the end of each verse, the boy Nicolas sings, "God be glorified".

Nicolas devotes himself to God
Nicolas sells his lands to feed the poor, but is still uneasy and angry. He asks God to purge his angry soul.

He journeys to Palestine
The men describe the sea voyage. On the journey, the sailors jeer at Nicolas who predicts a storm ahead, and indeed the wind rises and the waves begin to overwhelm the ship. At the height of the storm, the sailors kneel and pray, and Nicolas begs God to make the storm to cease.

A detail from Fra Angelico's painting St Nicholas saves the ship, 1437

A detail from Fra Angelico's painting St Nicholas saves the ship, 1437

He comes to Myra and is chosen Bishop
The choir proclaims Nicolas Bishop of Myra, following the ceremony of receiving the mitre, golden robe, dalmatic and crozier. Then the congregation joins in singing All people that on earth do dwell.

Nicolas from prison
Nicolas tells of the persecution of his Church for eight years by the Romans. He calls on them to turn from sin and "bow down your hard and stubborn hearts".

Nicolas and the Pickled Boys
In an inn three women are calling for their missing boys Timothy, Mark, and John. Travellers reaching the inn order a meal and invite Nicolas to join them. But suddenly he warns them not to touch the meat, for it is the flesh of the missing boys who have been killed by the butcher and pickled in salt. Nicolas brings the three boys back to life and the choir joins them in praise for the miracle.

His piety and marvelous works
A choral song of praise to Nicolas after being Bishop for forty years. They tell several stories of his mercy, charity, and kindness. The choir asks that these legends should keep the memory of Nicolas alive.

The death of Nicolas
While the choir sings the Nunc dimittis Nicolas eagerly prepares for his death and journey to "Him who waits for me above". At the end the congregation joins with the choir in singing the hymn God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten
1913 - 1976

In this cantata the choir plays various contrasting characters during the drama, relating the saint's adventures, often as eye-witnesses.

The cantata is in nine scenes.

I Introduction
II The Birth of Nicolas
III Nicolas Devotes Himself to God
IV He Journeys to Palestine
V He Comes to Myra and is Chosen Bishop
VI Nicolas from Prison
VII Nicolas and the Pickled Boys
VIII His Piety and Marvelous Works
IX The Death of Nicolas
Argentinian composer Ariel Ramirez
Ariel Ramírez
1921 - 2010

Ariel Ramírez   Navidad Nuestra

Ariel Ramírez is known for his research into the traditional rhythms of South America. In Argentina he collected over 400 folk and country songs.

Navidad Nuestra was created in 1964 for a criollo retable, a creole nativity play with each short movement using a different regional rhythm to tell the story of the nativity - from the annunciation, the Shepherds and the Three Kings to the flight into Egypt.

1   La Anunciación
2   La Peregrinación
3   El Nacimiento
4   Los Pastores
5   Los Reyes Magos
6   La Huida

The poet Felix Luna collaborated with Ramírez to provide the lyrics, reflecting a tender narrative through which simple people could express the mystery of the incarnation. Colouring the music with South American percussion and guitar, Ramírez uses a distinctive regional rhythm for each movement - a chamamé for the annunciation to Mary, a huella pampeana for the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary, a vidala catamarquena for the birth of Jesus, a chaya riojana rhythm for the Adoration of the Shepherds. The story of the Magi Kings is in takirario tempo and finally a vidala tucumana describes the flight into Egypt.

Adoración de los Reyes Magos
Adoración de los Reyes Magos

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