My Desert Island Discs

BBC Radio 4 recently asked listeners to write in with their favourite Desert Island Discs, eight pieces of music that they would choose to take away with them to a desert island. Predictably, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending was the top choice of the great British Listening Public. And why not? It’s an evocative, pretty piece.

Naturally, I did not get around to participating so here are mine, or really my top choices at this snapshot moment in time, because although some are permanent fixtures, others change with my mood, or what’s going on in my life at the moment. There are others that stay there, ready to be played by my mental orchestra at the touch of a subconscious button. Do feel free to comment and tell me yours.

Rachmaninov 2nd Piano concerto
I adore Rachmaninov. The swirling, expressionistic, passionate music plays in my head on tempestuous autumn mornings or when I’m tense about a situation I’m facing. I so wish I could play this myself but Rachmaninov had much bigger hands than me, not to mention being far better at the piano. I shall never forget the stupendous performance of the first movement of this by a sixth former at the Boywonder’s school. My heart was pounding at the musicality and understanding of such profound emotion from a teenager. If it’s on the same CD I’d also really appreciate Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody and Variations on a Theme of Paganini, which is an insight into the full complexity of human emotion.

Mozart Requiem
My favourite choral work to sing. Such a masterpiece and so ironic that so much of it was actually composed by someone else after the death of the great man. Again, it is best to listen to this very loud on a rainy December Saturday but it plays in my head all the time. I chose the Lachrymosa for my father’s funeral and have left instructions for it to be played at mine. But if you are there, please sit and listen to this glorious music. Have some respect. Don’t get up and start chattering over it.

Mozart Clarinet Concerto
Composed in 1791, this was the Master’s final completed orchestral work. The second movement will always remind me of Darling Daughter, who played this at the age of 10 at Prize Giving to an audience of 500, most of whom did not appreciate having to “sit through” it, as one mum told me later. *sighs* Pearls before swine…Darling Daughter went on to perfect this piece and play it to compete for music awards at three local schools. It will always remind me of her and it will always make me cry, especially the last couple of bars. It is perfect music to listen to in the garden on a sunny summer’s day, wafting on the breeze.

Over the Rainbow – Arlen and Harburg
I love the Judy Garland version of this of course, and the Boywonder, then with a beautiful treble voice, sang his way to four music scholarships and awards with it. The song is just so full of frustration and longing for a better world. More recently, however, I have been converted to Melody Gardot’s wistful version.

Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations
This is just such gentle, calm English music, evocative of the rolling countryside and will always remind me of OH for his Englishness. More recently, of course, I have another wonderful trumpeter in my family so Nimrod will forever remind me of my boys.

All night long – Lionel Richie
Yes, I know this is a slightly left field choice but it was popular in 1984 when I started University and, the following year which I spent in Beijing, was one of the few Western pop songs continuously played throughout the halls of residence of our college. It was particularly popular with the African students who were sent to China for many years to gain a university education that could not be provided by their own countries. It makes me smile whenever I hear it.

Love can build a bridge – The Judds (Comic Relief 1995 version with Cher, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry, Eric Clapton)
Just listen to the lyrics. And the way it starts with lone voices and builds to a full chorus and swelling guitar solo. But mostly for the lyrics. I currently associate this not with less fortunate people in famine- or war- ravaged parts of the world, but with my struggle to keep all lines of communication open with my teenage son, the Boywonder, as he makes his difficult and frustrating journey to adulthood. Consequently, I am often to be found running around Dulwich Park with this in my ears, in floods of tears. It is not easy to run whilst in floods of tears. Sometimes I sing along too. That’s harder still. I am hoping that the Boywonder will try to incorporate this into his bi-annual House Music competition at his school. I think it would be suitable for so many reasons.

Enjoy yourself: it’s later than you think -Sigman and Magidson (version by Jools Holland & his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra)
I just think this is funny and I love the lyrics too. Like most other uptempo numbers by Jools and his Band, it’s great to run to.

From the sublime to the ridiculous but those are my Desert Island Discs at present. What are yours?


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