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Top Tracks: A Green and Pleasant Land

Top Picks from the British Isles


We asked and you delivered! These are the choice picks from our Facebook page, thanks to our well-versed listeners. Special thanks to Michael Rosin for compiling this blog post.

Best British Symphony:


Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony 5 is the Best British Symphony -
Friends, what an honor it is to finally write about this symphony. One
of my favorites since high school, there was a point in my life when I
became obsessed with this symphony, especially the third movement -
listening to it every night before I went to bed. This piece
represents the zenith of Ralph Vaughan Williams' pastoral music.
Written during the entire duration of World War II, the piece is a war
symphony, meant to evoke the landscape of England, at one of the most
threatening and terrifying times in Great Britain's history. Themes
throughout the symphony are derived from an opera Vaughan Williams
composed earlier, entitled "The Pilgrim's Progress."
I've decided to share the life-changing third movement. This
British composer wrote his most beautiful piece during the worst
bombing of the UK. This piece does not appear on any soundtrack, nor
in any commercial. Please listen to the whole thing - I promise it's
nothing like anything you've ever heard before.

Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (arguably the
most authentic recording, being that Boult and Vaughan Williams were
good friends).


Best British Opera:


Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes" is the Best British Opera -
"Peter Grimes" is a staple in Great Britain's operatic canon. The
opera was inspired by a poem of the same title. The poem was written
by George Crabbe and inspired Britten deeply, since both men were
natives of Suffolk. It premiered in London on June 7, 1945.
Britten's partner, Peter Pears, played the title role for it's first
performance - he was also a key figure throughout the opera's creation
and production. There was an orchestral suite published separately
entitled "Four Sea Interludes" which captures many of the important
themes and moments of the opera. I've decided to post the opening of
the second act (also the second movement of the "Four Sea
Interludes") subtitled "A Summer Sunday Morning." This section in
particular has such incredible orchestration and a deep lively mood,
both of which Britten was so masterful at capturing.
Sir Colin Davis conducting.


Best British Concerto:


Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Tuba
Concerto are the Best British Concerto - The Elgar Cello concerto
really speaks for itself. Written in 1919, it was one of Elgar's last
pieces. Initially, it had been poorly received. It was only after some
time that it became a popular work, receiving much attention. It is
now a standard cello concerto and even part of orchestral repertoire.
Like Vaughan Williams' Fifth, it too was inspired by a world war, this
one instead being WWI - the "Great War."
A famous recording - Jacqueline Du Pre, under the baton of Daniel
Barenboim. London Philharmonic.



- Ralph Vaughan Williams' Tuba Concerto is a good partner to the Elgar
Cello Concerto. It too was written towards the end of the composer's
life and was not received well at it's premiere. Composed in 1954,
the piece was written for the principal tuba player of the London
Symphony Orchestra, Philip Catelinet. The composition is relatively
short for a three-movement concerto, lasting barely thirteen minutes.
Although it's orchestration initially confused the public, it is now
one of a few standard tuba concertos.
Patrick Harrild on tuba, and the London Symphony Orchestra under the
direction of Bryden Thomson.


Best British Song:


The classic Greensleeves wins by a mile! Most likely England's most
popular folk song, references to it's existence date back as far as
the late sixteenth century. Although the text and music have been
attributed to King Henry VIII, it is not proven that he is the actual
composer. Throughout the centuries, it has been arranged and
transcribed for almost every conceivable instrumentation. The tune is
even a famous Christmas carol, "What Child is this?"
Since Ralph Vaughan Williams features prominently in this blog, I will
share his famous orchestral arrangement of the tune - "Fantasia on
Greensleeves." Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
Enjoy!

5 Responses to Top Tracks: A Green and Pleasant Land

  1. Hedy Mameghan says:

    Dear Bill, I enjoy listening to your program whenever I can, usually in the car in Melbourne (3MBSFM), about two or three times a week. Can you please help me identify an orchestral piece of music written in astonishing and exact imitation of Scheherezade by Rimsky-Korsakoff? I heard it on the radio many years ago and have forgotten the name of the composer! I thought you might be the best person to ask and would appreciate hearing from you one way or the other. Best wishes. Hedy

  2. Gregg Punswick says:

    I appreciated the connection Bill made between the Grieg Piano Concerto and the Debussy String Quartet. I appreciate those connect-the-dots observations.

  3. ken krimstein says:

    thank you for doing arvo part.
    do osvaldo golijev too.
    then schnabel.
    quite enjoy the show and happy that you were a brass player. who now plays the piano. i think.
    spiegel im spiegel — gorgeous.

  4. Ken collinson says:

    Bill, as we’ve discussed before, I’ll especially be listening for your Schumann 2nd Symphont, 3rd movement. I just checked it on YouTube, 2 versions, 1 by an unnamed conductor, the 2nd by Bernstein. As usual, Bernstein emphasizes certain things to the maximum.

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