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.
Gerald Finzi's Eclogue for Piano and Strings, performed by Peter Donohoe, piano, and the Northern Sinfonia conducted by Howard Griffiths, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
When the boy was seven, his father died. Three brothers died. His first composition teacher was killed in WWI. He devoured poetry, wrote music, moved to the country, walked for hours in solitude. He cultivated apple trees and cataloged and published a sick friend’s music. At 50 he learned he had Hodgkin’s disease; he wouldn’t live out the decade.
From this seemingly melancholy life Gerald Finzi sculpted music of soft, shimmering beauty. He never finished a piano concerto, but after his death one movement of it was published as Eclogue. The dictionary calls “eclogue” pastoral poetry. This is the essence of Gerald Finzi.
Franz Biebl's Ave Maria, performed by LundCantores Cathedrales, Eva Svanholm Bohlin, conductor, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
In 1964 a German fireman asked Franz Biebl, his church organist, to write a piece for the men’s choir at the firehouse. He did, they sang it, and it was forgotten. A few years later, though, Biebl, directing music at a radio station, showed it to the touring Cornell University Glee Club. They took it back to the U.S. It started to be known, and when Chanticleer recorded it, it became a worldwide hit.
Biebl and others have arranged his Ave Maria for different ensembles, vocal and instrumental (the radiant, surging harmonies transport alike a mixed choir or a drum and bugle corps) but the sound of the original double men’s choir version is unmatched.
"O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and Youth Chorus, and the Highcliffe Junior Choir, conducted by Marin Alsop, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
Carmina Burana begins with a blast in the opening section, "O Fortuna"—Luck, Empress of the World. Then a quiet, rhythmic repetition follows, with a smashing conclusion about the forces of life controlled by Fortune and Fate. The 25th and last section repeats the first. What's between the bookends?
Carmina Burana means "Songs of the Beurens," and are medieval poems, mostly in Latin, discovered in a monastery in 1803 in Bavaria. The musical collection includes the ephemeral pleasures of spring, health, drinking, gambling, and lust.
The Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 of Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by the Swiss Baroque Soloists, is featured on CD 1 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.
The six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721 are among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era. The Third in the set is scored for three violins, three violas, three cellos, and basso continuo, including harpsichord. The Margrave not only never paid Bach for his work, but he failed even to thank him. This third concerto is a highlight of one of the happiest and most productive periods in Bach's life.
Even though he didn't call them the "Brandenburgs" himself, Bach still thought of them as a set. Compiled from short instrumental sinfonias and concerto movements he had already written, Bach re-worked the old music, often re-writing and elaborating where he saw fit, and creating in the process some of the most brilliant and enjoyable of any of his works.