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Was 1910-19 the best decade for English music?

The early 20th century spawned some of Britain's finest choral and orchestral writing, by composers including Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Holst

Was 1910-19 the best decade for English music?

Elgar: Violin Concerto (1910)

Commissioned by Fritz Kreisler, the quintessential Englishness of Elgar’s Concerto was summed up by his friend WH Reed, who compared its three movements to the Rivers Severn, Thames and Wye.

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Recommended recording:

Yehudi Menuhin (violin); LSO/Edward Elgar (1932).
EMI 566 9792

Read our reviews of the latest Elgar recordings here

Find out more about Elgar and his works here

Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis (1910)

Premiered at the Three Choirs Festival, Vaughan Williams’s glorious combination of the 16th century with the contemporary instantly took British music in a unique new direction.

Recommended recording:

James Ehnes (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Manze
Onyx ONYX4212

Read our reviews of the latest Vaughan Williams recordings here

Find out more about Vaughan Williams and his works here

Elgar: Symphony No. 2 (1911)

With the exquisite Larghetto second movement funeral march at its heart, the inspirations for Elgar’s otherwise upbeat Second included a poem by Shelley and the composer’s visit to Tintagel.

Recommended recording:

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA5197

Bridge: The Sea (1911)

This atmospheric tone poem depicting the sea in four different moods would go on to inspire composers including Bax and, more directly, Bridge’s own pupil Britten.

Recommended recording:

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Groves
Warner Classics 2435668555

Read our reviews of the latest Bridge recordings here

Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad (1911-12)

With their musings on the subject of mortality, George Butterworth’s haunting vocal settings of Housman poems are given added pathos by the death of the composer himself in World War One.

Recommended recording:

Roderick Williams (baritone), Iain Burnside (piano)
Naxos 8.572426

Read our reviews of the latest Butterworth recordings here

Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912)

In this, the more famous of his Two Pieces for Small Orchestra – the other is Summer Night on the River – Delius conjures up the evocative pastoralism that would become a hallmark of British music.

Recommended recording:

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
Warner Classics 5675522

Read our reviews of the latest Delius recordings here

Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (1914)

Composed initially for violin and piano – the familiar orchestral version came later – Vaughan Williams‘s seemingly innocent depiction of the songbird is in fact full of foreboding as the clouds of the First World War gather. A masterpiece.

Recommended recording:

Tasmin Little (violin); BBC Philharmonic/Sir Andrew Davis
Chandos CHAN 10796

Holst: The Planets (1914-8)

Just as VW hinted at the gloom of war in The Lark Ascending, Holst portrayed its violence with uncanny prescience in 1914’s ‘Mars’. The full orchestral suite that followed rightly remains as popular as ever.

Recommended recording:

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle
Warner Classics 3593822

Read our reviews of the latest Holst recordings here

Find out more about Holst and his works here

Bax: Tintagel (1917)

 Bax reveals his mastery of orchestral scene painting. Equally captivating tone-poems from this era include his The Garden of Fand (1913) and November Woods (1917).

Recommended recording:

BBC Philharmonic/Vernon Handley
Chandos CHAN10362

Read our reviews of the latest Bax recordings here

Elgar: Cello Concerto (1919)

In the aftermath of the First World War, Elgar reflects both his and the nation’s mood with a work of wistful contemplation. As exquisite as it is mournful, it would prove his last major composition.

Recommended recording:

Alisa Weilerstein Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
Decca 478 2735

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