Its aims were mocked when it launched, but Radio 3 has continued to nurture new music, drama and poetry alongside the classics. Controller Alan Davey celebrates a unique broadcasting institution
It was nearly named after a transmitter. When the BBC was looking for a name for its new music and arts radio station in 1946, for one epoch-changing moment, the Droitwich Programme was a contender. However, a compromise name was found; as the third BBC radio service after the Light and Home services, it was called the Third Programme. It was born at 6pm on 29 September 1946, and its first cries were a light-hearted guide on How to Listen, a talk on world affairs, Bach harpsichord music, Monteverdi madrigals and a new work by Benjamin Britten. Something old, something new, something surprising.
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It declares itself the birthplace of classic dance and is among the oldest and most prestigious classical corps in the world, known for its danseurs étoile and petits rats, the child stars of its 300-year-old school.
When it comes to fancy footwork, however, the the Paris Opera Ballet’s directors found they had unwittingly stepped into the spotlight this week.
Der Rosenkavalier | Jeremy Denk | Così Fan Tutte | Thomas Dausgaard | Other Presences
Opera North’s new music director Aleksandar Markovic makes his debut conducting a revival of David McVicar’s production, first seen in Glasgow 17 years ago. It’s done the rounds since and returns now to Leeds.
Netrebko/Pappano/Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia(Deutsche Grammophon)
The cover photo is baffling, given that “verismo” might be translated as “realism”: gold-headdressed bird goddesses don’t feature much in the sensationalised “real life” of that strand of turn-of-the-20th-century Italian opera. Yet Anna Netrebko has surely earned some sartorial indulgence. Extracts from 10 operas show her voice reaching an exciting maturity, its increased weight matched by even more gleam, fizz and expressive projection. She has yet to sing most of these roles on stage, but inhabits them convincingly, though consonants are rarely a priority: her Madam Butterfly sounds aptly aged by sorrow, her Turandot impassioned and imperious, her Adriana Lecouvreur radiantly self-assured. For the final act of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut she is joined by her husband, Yusif Eyvazov, a good tenor who has married well. Antonio Pappano is, as ever, the ideal supportive conductor, and the orchestra plays as if it loves Netrebko’s every note.
There will be something new and intriguing for most chamber-music fans in this recital by Latvian violinist Baiba Skride and her pianist sister Lauma, which brings together relatively little-known violin pieces by the leading Nordic composers of the early 20th century. The most envelope-pushing work – and the one that makes the most of Baiba’s characteristic intensity of tone and muscular yet seamless phrasing – is the 1912 Sonata No 2 by Nielsen, its first movement a seething, searching bundle of mood-swings, its finale a deceptively relaxed waltz that in one striking passage anticipates the climbdown from one of the climaxes in the Fourth Symphony, begun two years later. The sisters are ideally matched, too, in four miniatures, Op 78, which find Sibelius in effortlessly lyrical mode, plus Grieg’s folk-inspired 1867 Sonata No 2 and the long, wistful lines of Stenhammar’s Sonata from 1900. Why are these works not played more often?
Fischer/Fischer/Kadar/Van Hasselt/Kobra Ensemble/Budapest Festival Orchestra(Channel Classics)
“I consider eclecticism to be the most modern musical language of our time,” writes conductor Iván Fischer, who has recently been returning to his first love: composition. Anyone familiar with his sometimes eccentric, brilliantly precise work on the podium won’t be surprised to find similar qualities in his compositions. The wry little Fanfare that opens this portrait CD sets the tone for the music that follows: quirky, lean and with a gleefully scattergun approach to its influences. In Tsuchigumo, a 20-minute satirical children’s opera, Monteverdi-like recitatives jostle with Weill-style choruses and a thudding bass guitar; Shudh Sarang-Sextet incorporates an Indian raga, teaming a string quintet with a tabla; Eine Deutsch-Jiddische Kantate begins with a prelude that could almost be by JS Bach. Fischer’s daughter Nora is a focused, fluid soprano soloist in the latter and in some tiny Spinoza settings, and is haunting in the Yiddish mourning song A Nay Kleyd.
Kenneth Hamilton(Prima Facie)
Ronald Stevenson died in April last year. Two years earlier, his 85th birthday had been marked by a couple of significant collections of his piano music – Murray McLachlan’s three-disc set for Divine Art concentrated on Stevenson’s myriad arrangements, transcriptions and paraphrases, while James Wilshire’s set for Delphian was built around his performance of the huge Passacaglia on DSCH. There’s been nothing so significant since, but the beginning of Kenneth Hamilton’s series now promises a more systematic survey of Stevenson’s vast keyboard output .
Hamilton’s first selection avoids the most monumental pieces. There’s a scattering of arrangements and transcriptions, but the most substantial works here are Stevenson’s Peter Grimes Fantasy, a fantastical weaving of themes from Britten’s opera; the Symphonic Elegy for Liszt, effectively a dark, extended barcarolle, and the gloriously extrovert Beltane Bonfire, composed as a competition test piece. That contains quotations from Chopin and Mozart, and allusions abound in Stevenson’s music, just as his own musical language gathers in a range of composers from Liszt and Alkan onwards. Hamilton, who studied with the composer, brings exactly the right degree of control to the unstoppable streams of musical ideas, without ever compromising their energy or technical brilliance.
The maverick Polish-Jewish composer’s life was as colourful as the Shakespeare stories that he adored. Ahead of his only opera’s UK premiere, David Pountney tells how Merchant of Venice finally made it to the stage
Eccentric, brilliant, wilful, unstable, depressive, erratic, witty, morose. Just some of the words that might describe the pianist and composer André Tchaikowsky. But there was also his “dybbuk” – that untrustworthy mercurial Jewish spirit that hovers at your shoulder and will as likely precipitate you into a crisis as magically rescue you from one.
Tchaikowsky was trained early to inhabit an unstable world. At the age of five he was taken with his family into the Warsaw ghetto under his real name: Robert Andrzej Krauthammer. His enterprising grandmother bought false papers to get her and the child out of the ghetto, on which she presciently replaced Krauthammer with the name of her favourite composer: Tchaikovsky. Grandmother and child then spent the next three years on the run in and out of Warsaw. At one stage, André was hidden in the wardrobe of a young, pregnant girl whom he imagined to be the Virgin Mary.
Bevan/Clayton/Imbrailo/Orchestra of Classical Opera/Page(Signum)
Mozart’s work list is littered with incomplete projects, from pieces that are regularly performed in their unfinished state, such as the C minor Mass and the Requiem, to works for which the surviving material is too sketchy or skeletal to be really meaningful, including projected stage works such as Lo Sposo Deluso and L’Oca del Cairo. What there is of Zaide is more substantial. In 1779, Mozart started work on a Singspiel that, like Die Entführung aus dem Serail (which he began the following year), was to be set in a seraglio. By the time he had completed two of the projected three acts, though, not only had the prospects of performance evaporated, but he had received a commission from Munich for what would become his first unqualified operatic masterpiece, Idomeneo. The Singspiel was abandoned, without even a title; it became known as Zaide – after the leading character – when the music was first performed in the middle of the 19th century.
Royal Opera House, LondonThomas Guthrie’s reworking of Leiser and Caurier’s 2005 production is tremendous fun, with a top-notch ensemble cast that includes Javier Camarena and Ferruccio Furlanetto
The fourth revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s 2005 production of Rossini’s great comedy turns out to be one of the best. Carefully reworked by Thomas Guthrie, some of the staging’s problems do remain: the stylised elision of the 18th century with the 1960s still seems a bit too self-consciously clever and we lose sight, on occasion, of the opera’s emphasis on class and social mobility. But it gets a terrific performance, this time around, from a truly virtuoso ensemble cast with no weak links.
Ferruccio Furlanetto’s slimeball Basilio, his calumny aria balefully brilliant, is about as good as it gets.
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