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Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending – Work No. 100 in our collection

Ralph Vaughan Williams (12.10.1872 – 26.08.1958) was an English composer born, near to the home of iClassical, in the Cotswold village of Down Ampney, near Cricklade in Gloucestershire where his father was a vicar.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies (written over nearly fifty years), operas, ballets, chamber music, secular and religious vocal pieces, film scores and he was an ardent collector of English folk songs. His most popular works include his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Fantasia on Greensleeves and The Lark Ascending.

The Lark Ascending is a poem, written by the English poet George Meredith, about the song of the skylark. … This poem was the inspiration behind Ralph Vaughan Williams musical work of the same name. This work, that was originally scored for violin and piano, has become more widely known than the poem. The version that is most frequently performed today is scored for violin and orchestra.

The composer termed the piece a “pastoral romance for orchestra”. It is full of the folk melodies that the composer loved to collect, with those singing violin lines, mingling with the sounds of the earth before breaking free, rising to ever loftier heights. The mood is deeply nostalgic, and his writing evokes the glorious image of the rolling British countryside.

The work has become very popular and is much loved by audiences, particularly in Britain. The piece has been the top choice in the annual poll of Classic FM listeners more times than any other work. The version that we turn to most frequently, at iClassical, is Tasmin Little’s 2013 performance with the BBC Philharmonic and Sir Andrew Davis. Her charming performance has just the right balance of light and shade and is wonderfully supported by Andrew Davis et al. There are so many fine performances of this musical gem that picking one is an almost impossible task but this Chandos has the added advantages of fine sound and a most outstanding performance of Moeran’s Violin Concerto.

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Mahler’s ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’ – Work No. 99 in our collection

Gustav Mahler (07.07.1860 – 18. 05. 1911) was an Austrian composer and conductor, noted chiefly for his 10 symphonies and various songs with orchestra, including Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. As a composer his work forms an important bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century.

Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) is a youthful song cycle that Gustav Mahler based on his own texts. This set of four Lieder for medium voice (often performed by women as well as men) was written around 1884–85 in the wake of Mahler’s unhappy love for soprano Johanna Richter, whom he met while conductor of the opera house in Kassel, Germany. It was not orchestrated (and revised) until the 1890s. There are strong connections between this work and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, with the main theme of the second song being the main theme of the symphonies opening movement whilst the final verse of the fourth song appears as a contemplative interruption of the funeral march in the symphonies third movement.

We have chosen to include a version by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a German lyric baritone, who is widely regarded as one of the finest Lieder (art song) performers of the post-war period. He has recorded the work a number of times but his voice was at its finest in his 1952 performance, recorded when he was just 27. He is accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra directed by the great Wilhelm Furtwängler and the sound, captured in the Kingsway Hall, London, is hugely enjoyable even by today’s standards.

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Adams, J: Shaker Loops – Work No. 98 in our collection

John Adams (born 15.02.1947) is an American composer and conductor of classical music and opera, with strong roots in minimalism. He is one of the best known and most often performed of America’s composers. His creative output spans a wide range of media: works for orchestra, opera, video, film, and dance, as well as electronic and instrumental music. Such pieces as Harmonium, Harmonielehre, The Chairman Dances and Shaker Loops are among the best known and most frequently performed of contemporary American music.

Shaker Loops is a 1978 composition that was originally written for string septet. A version for string orchestra followed in 1983 and the latter was first performed in April of that year at Alice Tully Hall, New York, by the American Composers Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. It is a work is in four movements.

      1. Shaking and Trembling
      2. Hymning Slews
      3. Loops and Verses
      4. A Final Shaking

    1. Sections of Shaker Loops have been used in films; Barfly and I Am Love as well as in the video game Civilization IV.There are number of good recordings of this work including those by Marin Alsop with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Edo de Waart with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and our chosen version by Christopher Warren-Green with the London Chamber Orchestra. We have chosen this version not only because it is one of the best but also because it contains fine performances of further minimalist works by Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
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Passionate, lyrical baroque flute concertos from Kuijken

The Grand Mogul – Virtuosic Baroque Flute Concertos

Barthold Kuijken (baroque flute), Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra

For his latest release on the Naxos label, the Belgian flautist and recorder player Barthold Kuijken is performing with the period instrument ensemble Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. The CD contains works by Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Leclair, Blavet and Telemann thus providing the listener with a varied programme of lyrical, baroque flute concertos from Italy, Germany and France.

I have one or more performances of these works, with the exception of Flute Concerto in A minor by Blavet, in my collection already. The CD opens with Vivaldi’s Concerto Il Gran Mogul for flute, strings & continuo in D minor, RV431a from which the CD gets part of its title. This delightful piece appears on Florilegium’s excellent Sacred works for soprano & concertos on Channel Classics and on The French Connection 2 from La Serenissima with Katy Bircher playing the flute. Pergolesi’s  Flute Concerto in G major represents one of the few examples of Pergolesi’s instrumental compositions—if, indeed, Pergolesi wrote the work; musical scholarship is uncertain about its origin. This work is familiar to me through a recording by James Galway, with I Solisti Veneti and Claudio Scimone, has a style and structure that is very similar to those works that he wrote for the operatic stage. Leclair’s Flute Concerto Op. 7 No. 3 in C major is known to me in its version for the violin on a bright and delicate recording by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. Telemann’s light and amiable Concerto TWV 51:D1 in D major for flute, strings & b.c. has been recorded by Karl Kaiser in a sunny performance with La Stagione Frankfurt and Michael Schneider. Michel Blavet (1700–1768) was the principal flautist in the Paris Opéraand was better known as a high-rank performer than as a composer. Nonetheless Blavet endowed French flute music with the mature and virtuoso character that enabled flautists to vie with Leclair and other great French violinists of the period. It is a pleasant enough work in which the first and last movements, which are written in a purely Italian style, flank a couple of French Gavottes.

This release is to be welcomed not merely for its variety, which enabled me to happily listen to the entire CD in one setting, but also for the quality of the playing of Barthold Kuijken, who must surely be the best of baroque flautists, and the exuberant performance of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. These are fine performances that benefit from Barthold Kuijken’s assiduous study of the music of these five composers and they provide entertainment and enlightenment in equal measure. I have no hesitation in recommending this release to anyone with an interest in baroque music not merely aficionados of the baroque flute. Combine all of these factors with a sympathetic recording and this makes the CD a clear choice for our bargain of the month award.

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