Apocalypse Discs – Stuart Millson


Quarterly Review Music Editor

If I find myself on a desert island, or living in a nuclear bunker, or in a cave in Wales (the latter will have its own generator, so that my collection of CDs and records can be played!) I would like to take the following recordings:

Violin Concerto, Elgar

To remind me of fresh air and sunshine, and to stir the soul (as it such a yearning, surging piece of music, especially in the last movement). It’s probably Elgar’s greatest work, and I believe it to be the greatest Violin Concerto ever written.

A recording of the Prologue to Powell and Pressburger’s 1944 film, A Canterbury Tale

The perfect 1940s diction of actor, Esmond Knight, draws you into the story – as if he is personally telling you a great secret; he actually delivers Chaucer’s prologue, as a camera scans across a map of mediaeval England – with all the main points of the pilgrims’ journey from Winchester, through to Surrey and on to Rochester, Chilham and Canterbury.

Church Motets, Bruckner

They make you feel very close to your maker, or at least to the spiritual life. I would like them to be on a CD set with the Symphony No. 8 – a work of cosmic power, as dazzling and glorious as Beethoven’s Ninth.

Fifth Symphony, Nielsen

A masterful modern symphony, a sense of Sibelius meeting Shostakovich. The beautiful woodwind theme and warm string tune which opens the section leading to the apocalyptic disarray and terrifying side-drum passage stirs me deeply.

Symphony No. 2, Rachmaninov

A great journey in music – the scherzo movement, with its hurrying themes and a sense of the night, but with bright lights in the sky (a Van Gogh or Chagall scene almost), brings back personal memories of 25 years ago – old places, old hopes.

The remains of Uriconium, a formerly important Roman town in Shropshire

On Wenlock Edge, Vaughan Williams

A piece that is almost too hard for me to listen to! Too many emotions and memories associated with “Bredon Hill” – or places like it. Again, very personal.

Goldberg Variations, J. S. Bach

Perfect music, the very meaning of life. Such pathos, and brilliance. Before the final aria, there is a magnificent passage – about three minutes – which expresses a sense of huge triumph, without being triumphant. The brilliance of Bach… a genius.

Thomas Linley the Younger

The Tempest, Thomas Linley the Younger

“Arise, ye spirits of the storm…” Linley was a truly great composer, he found the essence of The Tempest, and turned it into music. The opening passage has an intensity, a loneliness and drama which, in my view, makes it one of the finest pieces of the 18th century. Perfect desert island music, in that it reinforces the sense of what has happened to you!

Cello Sonata, Debussy

A stoicism and melancholy, an integrity and intensity of feeling. An autumnal landscape – I see Debussy surveying his beloved France, the soul of the country still present after the Great War. Debussy is France, as far as I am concerned.

The Auden section of A Spring Symphony, Benjamin Britten

English romanticism through a modernist prism – like an English landscape by Paul Nash. There is a mediaeval feel to the opening of this movement (“Out on the lawn I lie in bed”) which reminds me of Elizabethan church music – and then a lovely warm orchestral sigh, with woodwind suggesting birds and Nature. I have developed a strong attachment to Suffolk over the last few years, and all the beauty of the county – coast and country – can be found in this music. A magnificent musical experience – so unusual, unexpected, so intricate, utterly beautiful. A sad thing that so many people will go through life, never experiencing this astonishing few minutes of music.


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