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Meg Bragle plays favorites, here and on Afternoon Classical

Joseph V. Labolito
Temple University

As the new Afternoon Classical host on WRTI, I’ve been sharing pieces each day this week that have a particular meaning to me. I can’t call it a Top 5, because it would be impossible to narrow down my favorites to such a small number — but I thought this would be a good way to introduce myself to you through some of the music I love.

The first piece that came to mind was Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. It was the last major work I studied while I was a violinist and I can still remember my fingerings and the feeling of playing that sweeping opening line with the orchestra. I love Elmar Oliveira’s tone and passionate playing of the first two movements, in particular.

It’s probably a cliché to admit to loving Mahler’s symphonies, but the Second Symphony just knocks me out. The Fourth movement, “Urlicht” (Primeval Light),” has always had a visceral impact on me, and this recording by Maureen Forrester is my favorite. From the gorgeous hymn-like opening from the brass section, how she holds the word “himmel (heaven)” just a bit longer than you expect, to the final pianissimo of “leben (life),” this is the recording I keep coming back to.

Bach has been a central figure in my professional life so I put his music at the heart of this list. It is impossible to pick a favorite, so I limited myself to vocal music, and had to share this joyful, virtuosic recording of Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230. I worked with John Eliot and the wonderful Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists for many years, and those collaborations meant a great deal to me. This recording is representative of the balance of joy, fierce attention and focus that were a hallmark of making music with those dear colleagues.

A number of years ago I was singing chamber music in Boston, and the Fauré Piano Quartet No. 1 was also on the program. I offered to turn pages in the performance and absolutely loved being in the midst of this earthy, fantastic and utterly modern music (written at the end of the 19th century!). The intimacy of a string quartet being joined by a piano could go so many ways, and Fauré’s control is incredible throughout.

Margaret Bonds is a composer whose music I’ve gotten to know over the past few years. A piano prodigy, she studied composition with Florence Price while she was in high school. I’m sharing movements from two of her larger-scale works: The second movement of Credo (which used text by W.E.B. DuBois) in an arrangement by Lara Downes, and the first movement of her Christmas Cantata, Ballad of the Brown King, which she wrote in collaboration with Langston Hughes, a longtime friend and collaborator. Both of these pieces show the brilliance of her writing: beautiful melodies, intuitive text setting and gorgeous, rich harmonies.

Since I can’t possibly limit myself to only five choices, here are a few more composers and pieces at the top of my list.

Brahms has been my companion for a long time — pick any of the symphonies, the lieder, the horn trio, or perhaps the Intermezzo, Op.118, #2.

Dietrich Buxtehude was so respected in his time, Johann Sebastian Bach walked over 250 miles to hear and learn from him. Although he was particularly renowned for his keyboard writing, I find his cantatas utterly compelling. Das neugeborne kindelein and Jesu, Meines Lebens leben are two great examples.

I spent over 10 years performing and recording the work of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, a 17th century Milanese nun. This was the first time I had worked on music written by a woman, and it opened my eyes to the amazing range of repertoire that was being written at that time. There were a number of nuns writing extraordinary music in Italy in the 17th century; Isabella Leonarda, Catarina Assandra and Sulpitia Lodovica Cesis are just a few names to know. Cozzolani’s Vespro della Beata Vergine can easily stand beside Claudio Monteverdi’s composition of the same name.

Aaron Copland actively sought to bridge the gap between people and the concert hall. This resulted in justifiably famous works like Appalachian Spring, Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man. While I love those pieces, I find some of his lesser-known pieces particularly moving: Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, In the Beginning, and the music to one of my favorite plays, Our Town.

Listen to Meg Bragle on weekday afternoons at WRTI.

As a young violinist, Meg Bragle regularly listened to her local classical music station and loved calling in on Saturday mornings to request pieces, usually by Beethoven. The hosts were always kind and played her requests (often the Fifth Symphony), fostering a genuine love for radio.