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The Column: Ralph Vaughn Williams' 'The Lark Ascending Wins' Again, But Why?

by James Inverne   Apr 23, 2014 00:26 AM EDT

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Here comes the unaskable question: What is it with The Lark Ascending? The Vaughan Williams work has again topped the Classic FM Hall of Fame poll. It might have been edged out by the Rach 2 for the last few years, but it is a regular at the lofty summit of the list, voted on by more than 100,000 listeners to the UK radio station. It has also previously been voted Brits' favorite-ever melody featured in the popular BBC Radio show Desert Island Discs. Audiences love it, violinists love it (it is largely a violin showpiece), so it feels strangely subversive to ask, "Why?"

To call to mind a typically testy exchange between the main characters in the TV sitcom Yes Minister, "Why not?," "Why not, but why?" Why not, indeed. There is nothing not to like about The Lark Ascending. A plangent, beautiful solo violin line couched in some of Vaughan Williams' most cushioned orchestral scoring, colors mottled and sensitively balanced. It doesn't seep richness like some of Elgar's more over-egged orchestrations (for all their emotional brilliance), neither does it posit any especially challenging or divisive musical ideas. Or if it does, they're pretty well hidden.

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