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A Green and Pleasant Land

With William Blake’s famous words as a stepping-off point, we’re traversing the pastoral musical landscapes of the British Isles.

 
Program 1

A reading of Hilaire Belloc's idyllic essay, "The Mowing of a Field," creates a picture of the lands of which we will come to experience through musical sensations, thanks to the English composers that captured their lyrical beauty.  

Patrick Hadley opens with a spring celebration in dedication to Vaughan Williams' 70th birthday.  Williams was influential to the English collecting their own folk tunes, which in turn influenced his work, as is heard in "Linden Lea."  His pupil and close friend, Butterworth, aided in the collection process, and he wrote his most famous pentatonic piece, "The Banks of Green Willow" before he was tragically killed while serving in the Battle of the Somme.

The modal and vocal characteristics of English music still prevail in the 20th century, heard in a symphony from Charles Villiers Stanford and rhapsody by Herbert Howells.  The set concludes with traditional folk tunes arranged by Britten.

Stanford: Symphony #3 In F Minor, Op. 28, Irish
3. Andante Con Moto; 2. Allegro Molto Vivace
Ulster Orchestra/Handley
Chandos 8545
2:30 (excerpt), 18:58
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Hadley: One Morning In Spring; A Sketch for Orchestra
Philharmonia Orchestra/Bamert
Chandos 9539
4:21
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Vaughan Williams: Linden Lea
Bryn Terfel, b. Malcolm Martineau, p.
DG B0004216
2:21
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Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow
English Chamber Orchestra/Tate
EMI 7-47945-2
6:48
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Howells: Pastoral Rhapsody
London Symphony Orchestra/Hickox
Chandos 9410
12:25
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Britten: Folksong Arrangements from the British Isles
1. The Salley Gardens
2. The Foggy, Foggy Dew
Bryn Terfel, b. Malcolm Martineau, p.
DG B0004216
2:13
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Program 2

World-renowned English singer Kathleen Ferrier sings of a woman longing for her separated lover and a girl too young to be given up to "Willie."  The Elizabethan group, Circa 1500, perform "In a Garden So Greene."

Just after World War II, Benjamin Britten composed "Spring Symphony" based on English poetry.  The lively composition calls for a huge symphony orchestra and chorus, childrens chorus and three soloists.  Juxtaposing its energy is a delicate and impressionistic tune by Vaughan Williams,  "The Lark Ascending."  Even today, it consistently ranks high throughout the UK's classical music scene.  

Anon: “Blow the Wind Southerly”
Kathleen Ferrier
London 433475
2:25
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Anon: “My Boy Willie”
Kathleen Ferrier, Phyllis Spurr
London 433475
1:46
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Anon: In a Garden So Greene
Circa 1500
AVS 163
2:59

Britten: Spring Symphony
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Previn; St. Clement Danes School Boys Choir; Armstrong, s.; Baker, ms.; Tear, t.
EMI 47667
9:19, 8:29, 9:09
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Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
London Symphony Orchestra/Davis; Hilary Hahn, v.
DG 000312136
16:11
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Program 3

The lute takes us back to the 16th century with an Elizabethan song by William Byrd.  Fast forward three centuries over to the Hebrides, an archipelago off the coast of Scotland.  German-born Mendelssohn took a hiking trip there, and during a boat ride to Fingal's Cave, he was inspired to write a devotional piece on the journey.  His final symphony further paid tribute to the Scottish lands.  Bantock from London, too, tried to capture the mystery of the Hebrides with his symphony.  

A 1952 recording captures Dylan Thomas' "french horn of a voice" reading his poem "Fern Hill."  Composer and music critic Philip Arnold Heseltine, who went by the pseudonym Peter Warlock, wrote a sad tune of a curlew, then shifted to his Warlock personality to write the upbeat "Captain Stratton's Fancy." 

Byrd: The Woods so Wild
Julian Bream, lute
RCA 61587
2:08
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Mendelssohn: The Hebrides Overture, Op.26, “Fingal’s Cave”
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernstein
Sony 47592
9:02
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Mendelssohn: Symphonie Nr 3 a-moll, op.56, Schottische
II. Vivace non troppo
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Masur
Apex 49817
4:18
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Bantock: A Hebridean Symphony
Mvt. 1-5
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Handley
Hyperion 66450
14:04, 5:27
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Dylan Thomas: Fern Hill
Caedmon 1157
4:01
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Warlock: “O Curlew, Cry No More”
Ian Partridge (tenor), Music Group of London
EMI 65101
7:09
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Warlock: “Captain Stratton’s Fancy”
Bryn Terfel, b. Malcolm Martineau, p.
DG B0004216
1:57
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Program 4

Given that England is an island country, composers were just as enamored with the sea and shore as they were with the rugged landscapes.  Frederick Delius, born into a German merchant family, traveled throughout Europe and the States before committing himself to music.  He was attracted to American poet Walt Whitman, as were other English composers of the era, and he wrote "Sea Drift:" based off of one of his sentimenal poems.  

From Edward Elgar we hear a three-movement serenade for strings and a choral piece.  Elgar was also enchanted by the sea, leading to a song cycle titled "Sea Pictures."  "In Haven (Capri)" is a poem written by his wife Caroline Alice.  The last song, "Alassio," was titled after the town in which Elgar and his family stayed on holiday in Italy.  

 

Delius: Two Pieces for Small Orchestra
1. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Davis
Teldec 90845
5:58
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Delius: “Sea Drift”- based on Whitman
4. O rising stars!
5. O brown halo in the sky
Welsh National Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Mackerras; Thomas Hampson, b.
Argo (decca) 430206
6:48
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Delius: A Song Of Summer
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Davis
DG 477 7352
9:45
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Elgar: Serenade In E Minor, Op. 20
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Davis
Teldec 73279
12:19
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Elgar: “My love dwelt in a Northern Land”
The Cambridge Singers/Rutter
Collegium COLCD 104
4:22
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Elgar: Sea Pictures, Op. 37
1. Sea Slumber, Song (Roden Noel)
2. In Haven (Capri) (C. Alice Elgar)
London Symphony Orchestra/Barbirolli
Janet Baker, ms.
EMI 56219
7:09
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Elgar: In The South, Op. 50, “Alassio” – Canto Populare
Kennedy, v.; Pettinger, p.
Chandos 8380
3:10
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Program 5

If British folk music is reminiscent of American folk music, it's because much American folk came from Scotland and northern England.  Many rhapsodies were composed during the early 20th century, like the Latvian-Russian yet thoroughly English composer Gustav Holst and his "A Somerset Rhapsody."  Composers liked that anything can be put into a rhapsody, like folk tunes and modal scales, and also infuse their soul into the piece. 

A collection of poems titled A Shropshire Lad inspired composers to turn the simple and folk-like stories into melodies.  Somervell and Vaughan Williams, both known for their musical illustrations, lend their renditions of "Bredon Hill."  

Williams, who studied with Ravel, created English impressionism, as can be heard in
A Pastoral Symphony."  Continuing with the melancholic theme is Peter Maxwell Davies, who is heard playing his "Farewell to Stromness" at the piano.

Finally, the namesake of the program comes from Parry's "Jerusalem," a poem reiterated by 7,000 singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  The segment ends with a wordless piece by Delius, because sometimes, only sounds, not words, can capture the perfect summer night. 

 

Britten: Folksong Arrangements, from the British Isles: “Oliver Cromwell”
Terfel, bs. bar.; Martineau, p.
DG B0004216
:46
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Burns: O Once I Lov’d A Bonnie Lass (Handsome Nell)
Davy Steele
Linn Records 086
3:27
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Holst: A Hampshire Suite, Op. 28, No. 2-
II. Song Without Words: I’ll Love My Love, Andante
Munich Symphony/Bostock
Classico Class CD 284
2:21
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Holst: A Somerset Rhapsody, Op. 21, No. 2
London Symphony Orchestra/Hickox
Chandos 9420
9:31
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Somervell: In Summer-Time on Bredon Hill
Bryn Terfel, b.; Malcolm Martineau, p.
DG B0004216.
3:21
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Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge – “Bredon Hill”
Phillip Langridge, tenor; Howard Shelley, pf.; Britten Quartet
EMI 54346
7:01
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Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 3, A Pastoral Symphony
IV. Lento: Moderato Maestoso
Philharmonia Orchestra/Slatkin; Linda Hohenfeld, s.
RCA Victor 61194
11:18
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Peter Maxwell Davies: Farewell to Stromness
Peter Maxwell Davies, piano
Unicorn-Kanchana 9070
2:49
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Parry: Jerusalem
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Last Night Of The Proms
Teldec 97868
2:49
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Delius: To be sung of a Summer Night on the Water, II
The Cambridge Singers/Rutter
Collegium 104
2:19
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