Robert Spano / Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark Ascending

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The three works by Ralph Vaughan Williams on this ASO Media release are often believed to pertain to the composer's wartime experiences and attitudes about war, and the cover art of this double CD -- a bird flying over barbed wire -- certainly suggests that they are all linked. While The Lark Ascending was started before and completed shortly after Vaughan Williams' service in World War I, it is based on the pastoral poem by George Meredith and has no overt program linking it to the war. The brash Symphony No. 4 in F minor was written in the early 1930s during troubled times, though Vaughan Williams never specified anything programmatic and it is most likely entirely abstract, despite its tense, bellicose mood and abrasive dissonances. Only the cantata, Dona Nobis Pacem, has a direct connection to Vaughan Williams' feelings about war, and this moving setting of texts from Walt Whitman, John Bright, and the Latin mass culminates in a powerful prayer for peace. Vaughan Williams conducted the work several times during World War II, so its wartime provenance is clearer than either of the companion works. At any rate, this album makes a connection by bringing them together, and it's easy for the listener to contemplate issues of war and peace without focusing too intently on the pieces' origins. Robert Spano leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus in stirring readings, and the emotion and power of the performances makes a compelling case for the album, surely for any who find themselves brooding over the subject of war.

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