|About this Recording
8.556783 - ADAGIO CHILLOUT
Adagio (Italian: at ease; at a leisurely pace). An indication of tempo, sometimes used to describe a slow movement.
Take off your shoes, sit back in your favourite chair and immerse yourself in some of the most tranquil music of the past 300 years. Music has been used for centuries to relax and soothe the mind and body, and this collection brings together works from all over the world – some familiar, some not so well-known – to ease away the stresses of the day.
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings
Few twentieth century pieces have caught the public imagination quite like Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Originally conceived as the central movement of his String Quartet in B minor, it was later orchestrated by the composer at a request from the conductor Arturo Toscanini for a piece for his first season with the newly-formed NBC Symphony Orchestra. The piece gained international repute after it was performed at the funerals of such luminaries as President Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein, and has since been used in films such as Platoon, Lorenzo’s Oil and The Elephant Man. It is an extraordinarily expressive piece of music, unfolding in a series of dynamic terraces with the intensity increasing as the rapt mood is effortlessly sustained throughout. It culminates in an impassioned climax followed by a heartfelt pause, and the melody resumes its elegiac course, resolving as if with a benediction.
If you enjoyed the Adagio for Strings, why not try:
8.559088 Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 (includes Adagio for Strings and Cello Concerto)
Wendy Warner (cello)
8.559044 Barber: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (includes Violin Concerto)
James Buswell (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Marin Alsop
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in D major, K467 ‘Elvira Madigan’: Andante
Mozart wrote an astonishing number of works in his short lifetime. Among these are 27 concertos “for keyboard”: the piano as we know it today was not fully developed until the very end of the eighteenth century, so Mozart’s concertos were probably intended for performance on the fortepiano (the modern piano’s immediate predecessor). They are generally referred to these days as “piano concertos” as they are mostly performed on modern pianos. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 is one of the most typical of his orchestral works, with two lively outer movements framing this gorgeous lyrical Andante. This movement in particular is testament to Mozart’s unqualified genius as a composer: though the musical language is actually rather complex, there is absolutely no feeling that any of the music is in any way forced – an achievement hardly any composer before or since has come near.
If you would like to hear the rest of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, try:
8.550434 Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 & 21
Jenö Jandó (piano), Concentus Hungaricus, András Ligeti
Mozart’s complete piano concertos are available on 11 CDs:
8.550201 Vol. 1 8.550206 Vol. 6
8.550202 Vol. 2 8.550207 Vol. 7
8.550203 Vol. 3 8.550208 Vol. 8
8.550204 Vol. 4 8.550209 Vol. 9
8.550205 Vol. 5 8.550210 Vol. 10
8.550212 Vol. 11
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3 – Mélodie
The name of Sergei Rachmaninov needs no introduction to any lover of Romantic piano music: his Piano Concerto No. 2, used in such classic films as Brief Encounter and by far the best known of his works, arguably represents the zenith of Romantic concerto writing. His works for solo piano are slightly less famous than his compositions for piano and orchestra. Written in the autumn of 1892, when Rachmaninov was nineteen and had just graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, the Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op. 3 comprise five piano miniatures each with a character described in the title of the piece. The third of the set is this exquisite Mélodie, so called because of the simple melody that traces its way through the accompanying harmonies, from the performer’s right to his left hand and back again.
Rachmaninov’s complete Morceaux de Fantaisie can be heard on:
8.554669 Rachmaninov: Morceaux de fantaisie (paired with Variations on a theme of Chopin, Op. 22 and Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 36)
Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)
Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960)
Elegy from Gustavus Adolphus II Suite
The name of Hugo Alfvén is not very well known outside his native Sweden, though his works made quite an impact on first publication in the early 1900s. His best known work was the Midsummer Vigil, a rhapsodic depiction of the magical long Swedish midsummer night, though he in fact wrote over 200 works including five symphonies and a large amount of choral and vocal music. In 1932 the 300th anniversary of the death of King Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden was commemorated by the performance of a play entitled Vi ("We") at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm. Though the play is now long forgotten, Alfvén’s music for it is still performed, particularly this Elegy which is often used as funeral music; its serene dignity lends it a poignancy fitting for such sombre occasions.
If you enjoyed this, try:
8.553115 Swedish Orchestral Favourites (includes Elegy from Gustavus Adolphus II Suite, Midsummer Vigil and works by Söderman, Stenhammar, Larsson, Peterson-Berger and Wirén)
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, Okko Kamu
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Requiem - Pie Jesu
The subject of death is not exactly uncommon in classical music, and the prevalent treatment of it is the setting of texts from the Requiem Mass. Of the many settings through the centuries, few have won themselves such classic status as the unique Requiem by Gabriel Fauré, pupil of Saint-Saëns and teacher of Ravel. Where many other composers wrote angry, dramatic, large-scale music clearly inspired by the ravages of Judgement Day, Fauré’s music is intimate, serene and elevating: he took the word “Requiem” at its literal meaning of “rest”, giving his music a sense of peaceful acceptance and release. The Pie Jesu, whose words translate as “Gentle Jesus, grant them rest, eternal rest”, encapsulates this sentiment perfectly with its clear soprano melody set against a quiet organ accompaniment.
If you would like to hear the rest of Fauré’s Requiem, try:
8.550765 Fauré: Requiem (paired with Vierne: Andantino and de Séverac: Tantum ergo)
Lisa Beckley (soprano), Schola Cantorum, Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Fantasia on Greensleeves
The name of Ralph Vaughan Williams is synonymous for many people with the very essence of British music. His quintessentially English soundworld immediately conjures up images of forests, lakes and lush green pastures; many of his works, such as The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis have established themselves in the British public’s affections through the universal appeal of the beautifully simple musical language. The Fantasia on Greensleeves, one such work for string orchestra, harp and one or two optional flutes, is taken from the introduction to the third act of Vaughan Williams’ opera Sir John in Love, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor. The impassioned arrangement of the familiar melody appears at the beginning and end of the work, with a lively folk-dance providing the contrast in the middle section.
If you would like to hear more of Vaughan Williams’ orchestral music, try:
8.555867 Vaughan Williams: Orchestral Favourites (includes Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Fantasia on Greensleeves and other orchestral works)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, James Judd
8.553955 Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (paired with Job – A Masque for Dancing)
English Northern Philharmonia, David Lloyd-Jones
Jesús Guridi (1886-1961)
Diez melodías vascas – Elegíaca
One of the lesser-known names in classical music, Jesús Guridi was in fact one of Spain’s greatest operatic and orchestral composers, remarkable for the fact that he absorbed elements of the contemporaneous musical trends but never actively attached himself to any of them, retaining his own unique voice. He hailed from the Basque region of Spain and became one of the foremost exponents of Basque nationalism in music. The Diez melodías vascas (Ten Basque melodies) of 1941, a set of ten folk-melodies simplistic and occasionally light-hearted though tinged with a modernist edge, were responsible for making Guridi’s name in international music through their astonishing variety and brilliant orchestration. The melancholic Elegíaca is the ninth of the set, with overtones of Sibelius and Elgar pervading what is essentially a serenade for solo violin.
The rest of the Diez melodías vascas can be heard on:
8.557110 Guridi: Diez melodías vascas (paired with other orchestral and choral works)
Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Juan José Mena
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
The Tempest - Miranda
Along with the Dane Carl Nielsen, Sibelius was probably the most important composer ever to come out of Scandinavia. He was particularly well known for his tone poems – orchestral works that tell a story through music – and pieces like Finlandia have established themselves as modern day classics with their accessible, almost cinematic quality. His incidental music for a notable 1926 Danish performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest resulted in two concert suites, the second of which includes musical portraits of Prospero and his daughter, and captures the magical spirit of Prospero’s island. The innocence of Miranda is conveyed in the delicacy of this piece, though there is also a sense of mystery in the opening few bars that suggests there is more to her than the wide-eyed naivety of a young woman brought up alone on an island.
You can hear the rest of The Tempest: Suite No. 2 on:
8.554387 Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7, The Tempest Suite No. 2
Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Petri Sakari
Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958)
There is no doubt that Jean Sibelius was the most famous of all Finnish composers. Less well-known outside his native country was his brother-in-law Armas Järnefelt, a pupil of Busoni and Massenet who later became the director of the Finnish National Opera, introducing many new items into the repertoire. He is chiefly remembered nowadays for his Praeludium, a charming work that often features in light orchestral programmes, and this Berceuse, a staple of the pre-LP era orchestral repertoire as it comfortably fitted on to one 78rpm side. In this touching, melancholy work, a haunting violin melody is set against the lilting rhythms of an orchestral accompaniment, with a major-key middle section providing a ray of light before the original theme returns to close the piece.
To hear more music by Järnefelt and other Finnish composers, try:
8.555773 Finnish Orchestral Favourites
Maarit Kirvessalo (violin), Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, Jorma Panula
John Tavener (b. 1944)
Sir John Tavener, an erstwhile student at the Royal Academy of Music, is one of contemporary music’s most distinctive and recognisable voices, writing deeply-felt compositions of instant magnetism and lyrical intensity inspired by a strong Greek Orthodox faith. A prolific composer of religious music, he has a catalogue of works including three Requiems and has developed a very personal style that embraces his own concept of “melodic minimalism”. The composer’s profile rocketed when his sacred choral work, Song for Athene, was sung at the funeral ceremony of Princess Diana. The Lamb, one of his settings of poetry by William Blake, is one of his better-known works. It might almost be described as a (sacred) lullaby; written in one afternoon, it is dedicated to Tavener’s three-year-old nephew. Its deceptively simple melody drifts over waves of austere but exquisite harmonies, creating an ethereal soundworld that is unique to Tavener.
More of Tavener’s choral works can be heard on:
8.555256 Tavener: Choral Works (includes The Lamb, Song for Athene and other choral works)
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge, Christopher Robinson
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Nocturnes – Nuages
One of the most influential composers of the early twentieth century, Debussy was largely responsible for the development of Impressionist music. Like the paintings of his compatriots Monet and Renoir, his music is more about conveying a complete idea than it is about details – in fact, he identified much more closely with painters and poets than he did to other musicians. Nocturnes is a set of three orchestral tableaux originally inspired by the poetry of Henri de Regnier and described by Debussy as “an impression of light and shadow”. Nuages ("Clouds") is the first piece in the set. Its delicately shifting string harmonies and dreamy oboe motif describe the constantly changing shapes of twilight clouds, which finally disperse into thin air at the very end of the movement.
To hear Debussy’s Nocturnes in full, try:
8.550262 Debussy: Nocturnes
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels, Alexander Rahbari
Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition - Cum mortuis in lingua morta
Modest Mussorgsky was not the most prolific of the Russian nationalists, partly due to the fact that he was in full time employment at the Russian Ministry of Communications for almost all his life, and he left a great deal of work unfinished at his death. Probably his best known work is the 1874 suite Pictures at an Exhibition, inspired by an exhibition of works by his friend, the artist Victor Hartmann. Originally conceived as a work for solo piano, this underwent orchestrations by various composers, of which that by Ravel is the most performed nowadays. Linked by “promenades” – the short walks between the paintings – Mussorgsky represents in music a varied collection, from the Market of Limoges and the Catacombs to the Great Gate of Kiev, a monumental translation into music of an architectural design for a triumphal gateway. Cum mortuis in lingua morta (With the dead in the language of the dead) follows the depiction of the Roman catacombs with their skulls piled up on either side. It achieves a ghostly, sinister mood through the use of tremolo strings in the background, though the transition to a major key towards the end gives a sense of optimism as the visitor to the catacombs emerges into the light.
The whole of Pictures at an Exhibition is available on:
8.555924 Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Theodore Kuchar
The original piano version can be heard on:
8.550044 Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Jenö Jandó (piano)
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Fantasía para un gentilhombre - Española
Left blind from a bout of diphtheria at the age of four, the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo heard Verdi’s Rigoletto as a child and knew that his vocation was to be a composer. His life spanned the entire twentieth century and the numerous musical developments that lay therein, and as a result many different musical techniques can be seen throughout his works. Though he was to become most famous for the ubiquitous Concierto de Aranjuez, he wrote countless other orchestral and choral works, many of which take inspiration from Spanish music and legend. Of these, the Fantasía para un gentilhombre is among the most commonly heard. Written for the world-renowned guitarist Andrés Segovia, it is based on 17th century Spanish dances since the “gentleman” of the title is Gaspar Sanz, the most significant Spanish composer of guitar music in the Baroque period.
To hear the complete Fantasía para un gentilhombre, try:
8.555841 Rodrigo: Complete Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 (includes Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un gentilhombre)
Ricardo Gallén (guitar), Orquesta Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias, Maximiano Valdes
John Rutter (b. 1945)
Requiem - The Lord is my shepherd
John Rutter is the most performed living composer of choral music in the world today: there are over 200 sets of parts for his Requiem on loan from the US publisher at any one time. His music is modern yet instantly accessible, but is also often deeply personal and frequently provokes emotional response. Written in 1985 in memory of John Rutter’s father, the Requiem is not a conventional setting of the Requiem Mass but comprises a personal selection of texts from the catholic liturgy and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is divided into seven sections which form an arch-like meditation on the themes of life and death. The penultimate section, a setting of Psalm 23, started life in the mid 1970s as a separate piece and was incorporated into the fabric of the complete Requiem in an exact correlation of the Libera me movement from Fauré’s Requiem. Its simple oboe melody and shimmering strings instil a sense of contemplation and calm, with some exquisite harmonies in the choral writing.
Rutter’s complete Requiem can be heard on:
8.557130 Rutter: Requiem
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, City of London Sinfonia,
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