Randall Thompson's Alleluia, performed by Voices of Ascension, Dennis Keene, conductor, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
From Randall Thompson, then Director of the Curtis Institute of Music, Serge Koussevitzky wanted a choral fanfare, loud and festive, for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. But Thompson couldn’t do festive, not in July 1940. Evil was spreading in Europe, and France had fallen the month before.
Over five days Thompson took the word “Alleluia”—literally, “Praise the Lord”—and turned it on its head, just as (he said later) it is in the Book of Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Thompson calls this a sad piece, this slow and insistent six-minute layered intoning of “Alleluia,” ending in “Amen.” It’s an atypical fanfare, but the Thompson Alleluia is one of the most beloved choral works of all time.
Ludwig van Beethoven's Bagatelle in A minor, "Für Elise," performed by Balazs Szokolay, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
If you’ve ever taken piano lessons, then Beethoven’s Bagatelle in A minor is no stranger to you. The instantly recognizable tune is a must for all beginning piano students, and the staying power of this lovely work is legendary. Listen to it here performed by Balazs Szokolay. There! Of course you know that one. Told you so.
Join us this Sunday, September 15th at 2 pm on WRTI as Sir Simon Rattle taps into an historic connection that The Philadelphia Orchestra has enjoyed with the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, conducting his final two symphonies without interruption, right after intermission.
Before intermission, Curtis grad and piano superstar Lang Lang will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
from Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele, Prologue in Heaven
The "Prologue in Heaven" from Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele, performed by soprano Dimitra Theodossiou, mezzo-soprano Monica Minarelli, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, tenor Mimmo Ghegghi, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, the Palermo Teatro Massimo Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and Children's Chorus, with organist Sonia Zaramella, and conducted by Stefano Ranzani, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Arrigo Boito is best remembered as a very successful writer who provided Amilcare Ponchielli with texts for La Gioconda, as well as libretti for three of Giuseppe Verdi’s best-loved operas. Success as a composer, though, eluded Boito. His one completed opera, Mefistofele, based on Goethe’s Faust, was a dismal failure at its first production. It took Boito several years to rework Mefistofele into what we know it as today, an opera in four acts with a Prelude and Epilogue.
It’s the Prelude that’s most frequently performed as a stand-alone concert piece today and is always a musically thrilling experience, scored as it is for solo voices, multiple choruses including children’s choruses, large orchestra, off-stage band, organ, harps, and percussion.
In the Prologue, a heavenly chorus praises God the Creator. Mefistofele scornfully declares that he can win the soul of Faust, a challenge accepted by the Forces of Good.
Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, performed by Capella Istropolitana, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
This iconic masterpiece by West Chester, Pa. native Samuel Barber began its existence in 1936 as the slow movement of his only String Quartet. Barber immediately recognized the expressive possibilities of his music and rearranged the movement for string orchestra later that same year. A continuous ebb and flow of sustained-note cadences that only gradually resolve produces an effect of a great heaving or sighing.
The deep sadness the music evokes has led to the work’s performance as an anthem of mourning for heads of state and during national tragedies. It has also been used to great effect in many film soundtracks.
The Cavatina by Stanley Myers, used as the theme to The Deer Hunter, performed by guitarist Norbert Kraft, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Film composer Stanley Myers scored The Walking Stick in 1970, and then guitarist John Williams convinced him to work up one bit of it for guitar. Williams played it eight years later on the sound track of one of the greatest movies of all time, The Deer Hunter.
Juxtaposing this bittersweet song against the struggle with brutality and love—in Southeast Asian jungles and Pennsylvania mountains—is as piercing now as it was in the years following the Vietnam War. Norbert Kraft performs the solo guitar arrangement with a graceful, glowing sound.
Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Gunzenhauser conducting, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Aaron Copland is considered by many to be the dean of American composers. One may argue that he created a “sound” that embodies the spirit of the American dream—a vision of a vast and different country where immigrants came to settle and build a life in a new world. This work celebrates the Appalachian mountain regions—the lowlands of the Lebanon, Cumberland, East Tennessee, and Shenandoah valleys.
A single clarinet opens the work with a simple melody and is joined by flute and strings signaling the beauty and simplicity of nature and the earth’s awakening from a harsh winter to a glorious spring. A brash orchestral segment initiates the feeling of “country music” and the simplicity once again of the melodies brought by the immigrants from their native English, Scottish, and German backgrounds.
The highlight of the work is the Shaker melody “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,” undoubtedly the cornerstone of the piece as it is developed and enlarged in all its glory. Written as a ballet for the great Martha Graham in 1944, it won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1945.
from Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi, O mio babbino caro
"O mio babbino caro," from Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, sung by soprano Miriam Gauci, with the Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rahbari, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
The soprano aria "O mio babbino caro" (Oh, my dear Papa) from Puccini’s only comic opera Gianni Schicchi, is one of Puccini's best-known and popular arias in opera. It’s sung with lyrical simplicity by the young woman Lauretta against a backdrop of hypocrisy, jealousy, double-dealing, and feuding in medieval Florence, after tensions between her father Schicchi and the family of Rinuccio, the young man she loves, has reached a breaking point that threatens to separate her from Rinuccio.
Here, she expresses to her father her love for Rinuccio, and begs him to reconsider his feelings for the young man’s family, threatening to go to the Ponte Vecchio and throw herself into the Arno River if she can’t marry him. It’s a very persuasive plea, and dear Papa finds a way!
The Lark Ascending, by Ralph Vaughan Williams, performed by David Greed, violin, and the English Northern Philharmonia conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Has there ever been a musical portrait of such beauty, grace, and tranquility? Inspired by George Meredith’s poem, this gorgeously meditative piece, originally written for violin and piano, was rearranged for violin and orchestra by Vaughan Williams in 1920. Between folksong-like orchestral interludes, the solo violinist takes flight playing soft, fluttering ascending and descending pentatonic (five-note) scale patterns, “ever winging up and up.”
Vaughan Williams’s free use of rhythm in the cadenzas enables the soloist to “lift us with him as he goes,” vividly depicting the song and motion of the lark as he takes wing out over the horizon.