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The Independent Culture

Benjamin Britten: St Nicholas/Christ's Nativity/150th Psalm. Langridge/Eco/Bedford (Collins Classics, CD only). Few, if any, conductors are so steeped in Britten as Stuart Bedford, who was all but born into Aldeburgh culture, and who was responsible for the first performances of Death in Venice and Phaedra. More recently he's been re-recording the Britten repertory in a long-term and largely superlative series for Collins; and this seasonally hooked release is as fine as anything yet. It doesn't merely sound right: you can smell the post-war, public-school aroma of cooked cabbage, polished floors and innocence that saturates this piece. It reeks of nostalgia. But it's also curiously fresh - a paradox at large here - with a brilliant resonance nicely caught by the engineers, and urgently insistent solo singing from Philip Langridge. Christ's Nativity is an early (1931) Christmas sequence, unpublished until after the composer's death, which explains where scores like Nicholas and A Boy was Born came from. And the 150th Psalm is a miniature demonstration of the genius with which Britten matched subtle invention to basic resources. Especially when those resources were children. Michael White


Mazzy Star: Among My Swan (Capitol, CD/ LP/tape). David Roback and Hope Sandoval might have long ago concluded their romantic entanglement, but this third album - two years on from 1994's million-selling So Tonight That I Might See - is their most consistently enchanting to date. Woozy highlights like "Flowers in December" suggest Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" after one too many paracetamols - but in a good way. The combination of Roback's courtly Lou-Reed-guitar out-takes and Sandoval's artfully disembodied vocals somehow manages to be exquisitely languid without lapsing into opiated torpor. Ben Thompson