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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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