Archive for July, 2009

Late Junction

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I just wish to declare my pleasant surprise (and thanks) at hearing “Atom Heart Mother” by Pink Floyd on Late Junction last week. I was randomly scrolling through the radio stations (non-DAB) at 12.30 a.m. when I recognised the opening notes, but it took me several minutes to realise I was on BBC Radio 3.

They should play “Atom Heart Mother” during a Late Night Prom one of these years.

I’d be even more surprised (pleasantly or otherwise) if I heard James MacMillan’s “Seven Last Words” broadcast on BBC Radio 2. Mind you, hearing “Atom Heart Mother” on BBC Radio 2 seems even more unlikely.

Progressive non-classical music and avant-garde rock has historically been more at home on Radio 3 than on either Radio 1 or 2. It is hoped, often in vain, that it may find more receptive ears, and perhaps in time it will.

Rock music, as opposed to its ephemeral cousin, pop music, is only around 50 years old or so, and what most classical music exclusivists suppose constitutes serious rock music has as much to do with that music as James Last has to do with classical music.
Give it another 50 years and I suspect many of these silly labels, categories and barriers will have all but disappeared along with many of us whose listening has been blighted, to one degree or another, by having to endure them.

The first time I ever heard Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa was on BBC Radio 3 in the 1970s. John Peel played Beefheart quite a bit on Radio 1, pre-punk, but seldom after that. If one’s non-classical musical appetite extended that far beyond the charts mainstream, you had no chance. I’ve been listening to “Trout Mask Replica” quite a lot this week, and a bit of Larks’ Tongues-era King Crimson, Janáček, Sibelius, Marilyn Crispell, and the always-present Bach.

Of course, the BBC Radio 3 Marilyn Crispell broadcast I remember most clearly was back in 1993, when she and Eddie Prévost were featured. That performance lasted around 40 minutes.

Are CDs Dead?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on July 24, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I’m amazed whenever I read of the CD format as “dead”. MP3 format recordings are an appalling way to listen to any music, I hardly need say here. And even if an iPod or equivalent took full frequency files, the thought of consigning a lifetime’s collecting to a device which I might accidentally drop in my coffee, or just lose never to be recovered, makes me shudder. Don’t get me started on downloads either – I’ve never had a CD fail on me yet but I must have got through two or three computer hard drives in my time.

I have CDs which are nearly twenty years old; LPs which are 50 years old; and 78s which are 80 years old. They all still function; in two out of the three cases with better results than iPod downloads. What archived collection of recordings will the iPod generation have to call on, after the device gets trodden on or the computer hard-drive packs up?

Sadly they probably won’t see the need to collect or save recordings, such is the ephemeral lifestyle which now seems to be fashionable.

It’s one of the many ways the recording industry tries to sell you stuff. Soon the iPod will be “dead” and you won’t need to be bothered you didn’t go out and buy one.

The big move was from analogue to digital. That was and remains the only significant choice to make. All else is just a choice of which carrier you prefer.

I have no interest in paying for downloads. To me it’s like taping off the radio which I did for over 20 years.

If I’m going to part with money I prefer a professionally-made CD with attractively-printed documentation and pictures. To a collector that is part of the pleasure, as we see with the growing appreciation for old LP cover artwork. Some of the sleeve notes were very well-written too, by quite distinguished experts in music.

Mention of my collection of recordings in three formats – 78s, LPs and CDs – reminded me that I had not included my cassettes. Many of these are broadcasts from the 70s, including many Proms, and would be impossible to replace now.

However, my Nakamichi cassette player is faulty and parts seem hard to come by. New machines don’t seem to exist, so there’s a danger of all this music being lost. It certainly seems that this will be the format which disappears before the other three.

Tomatoes on toast with Lancashire cheese

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


A slice of hot buttered toast with ripe tomatoes is a simple, pleasurable snack, especially if you use one of the tasty heritage varieties, or a large juicy beefsteak tomato, such as Marmande or ox heart. Any ripe, tasty tomatoes will do though, and I’d recommend a sourdough loaf as a base to really set the dish off.

Kirkham’s up in Lancashire produce great Lancashire cheese and their mature cheese works a treat with sweet tomatoes, especially on toast like this.

4 large ripe tomatoes
1 tbsp rapeseed oil, plus extra to drizzle
4 slices of sourdough bread, cut about 1cm thick
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly crushed
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
aalt and freshly ground black pepper
100-120g mature Lancashire cheese
wood sorrel leaves or chives, to garnish

Cut 4 slices from the centre of each tomato, about 5mm thick, and put to one side. Chop up the rest of the tomatoes and place in a saucepan with the rapeseed oil, garlic and thyme leaves.

Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, over a gentle heat for about 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes disintegrate into a pulp.

Toast the sourdough bread on both sides, then spread the tomato mixture on top and arrange 4 slices of tomato on each slice of toast. With a swivel vegetable peeler or sharp knife, cut the cheese into shavings and arrange on the tomatoes. Drizzle with a little rapeseed oil and scatter with wood sorrel leaves or chives to serve.


Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


The BBC Proms starts tomorrow. An interesting fun piece on the Today programme the other day, someone complaining about inappropriate Proms behaviour, mainly too much clapping between movements and in particular too quick to clap after the beauty of the music. His interesting point was that the immediate silence after a piece is part of the music, which it is, of course.

I’d be a bit fiercer about it though – the phrase “too much clapping between movements” will not do because any clapping between movements is unacceptable – a symphony, for example, is a “sounding together” usually split into four movements but by careful use of key-sequence and often thematic cross-reference, the composer cleverly makes it a single piece. Applause between movements is an interruption of the continuity of a work. Applause crashing in after the thoughtful end of a piece is equally offensive. I recall Gergiev refusing to lower his arms for at least a whole minute after conducting Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (which dies away to silence at the end), thereby forcing the audience not to move or make a sound. Maybe immediate applause is not disturbing after a joyful conclusion (as mentioned on the Today programme and elsewhere, giving Beethoven’s Choral Symphony as an acceptable example) but I am not interested in who can shout or clap the soonest or loudest. Could we perhaps have concert bouncers in the Albert Hall to remove the clappers and hold them in stocks erected outside the concert hall until the rest of the audience leaves – maybe throwing cabbages or decaying fruit at the interrupters as they pass?

In the 2001 Proms, Leonard Slatkin asked the audience to refrain from clapping after he performed Barber’s Adagio for Strings in memory of the 9/11 victims.

Some clapped.

In the “Beethoven Experience” weekend at the Royal Festival Hall in London about 20 years ago, Roger Norrington positively encouraged the audience to applaud between movements of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. His reasoning was “that’s what they would have done at the time.”

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Peach Jam

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , on July 15, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Peach jam is one of my favourites: sweet, chunky slices of peach suspended in syrup are delicious on crusty sourdough toast with lashings of unsalted butter.

2.5kg just-ripe peaches
the juice and zest of 3 lemons
½ tsp salt
1.5kg caster sugar
3 vanilla beans

Wash and cut the peaches, then crack the stones of two and take out the kernels in the middle. Lightly crush the kernels to release their nutty flavour and set aside.

Place the chopped peach and the lemon juice into a saucepan. Add the salt – this will bring out the flavour of the fruit – and simmer very gently for 20 minutes. Add the sugar, stirring to combine.

Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Once you think it might be ready, do the “wrinkle test” Place a spoonful of jam on a saucer in the fridge for a few minutes to cool. Run a finger through the jam: if the surface wrinkles, it’s ready. If not, return to the stove and boil swiftly.

Add the cracked kernels and allow the jam to rest for 20 minutes for even fruit and juice distribution. Spoon into warm, sterilised jars.

Brown Bread: Sir Edward “Red Ted” Downes

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I’ve just heard the sad news that Ted Downes has died, with his wife, both of them drinking a fatal draft of poison at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

The son of the conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Lady Joan described today how his parents died together at the Swiss assisted-dying clinic.

He was a great man. I hope BBC Radio 3 will recognise this in its forthcoming programming. It would be nice to hear again some of his magnificent performances of Russian music, much of it neglected at the time he revived it. I think his Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 is still the best I have heard.

Everyone will have their own memories of Ted Downes, but for me it was his Verdi performances that set the benchmark for others to follow. It was remarkable how someone born outside Italy had such a mastery and affinity with the Verdi style.

Not only an outstanding conductor, but also someone who built the Royal Opera House orchestra into an astonishing ensemble in the second half of the twentieth century. The orchestra has grown from strength to strength, and recent Music Directors have benefited from the wonderful work Ted Downes has done. I know that he was very much admired by orchestral musicians.

His wonderful cycle of the Prokofiev symphonies at the Royal Festival Hall was a revelation, particularly the lesser-known Third and Fourth. A fine man who achieved much. I was sorry to hear of his death, but glad that he had the option of ending his life before it became unbearable.

R.I.P. Sir Edward Downes 1924-2009

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Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Some examples of attractive and enjoyable works that might be more popular if they had less forbidding titles:

Edmund Rubbra: Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Giles Farnaby
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber

(Actually I suspect that Hindemith was being mischievous and perhaps even humorous with his Symphonic Metamorphoses title.) Hindemith was a bit of a wag – think of his 1925 string quartet piece “Overture to the Flying Dutchman, as played by sight by a mediocre spa orchestra at 7 a.m. in front of the drinking fountain”.

The two examples above are characterized by (a) their length and (b) the inclusion of musical terms that may be unfamiliar to some people – arguably to many. This is a combination that might discourage somebody thinking of dipping a toe in the wonderful pool of classical music. I wonder whether somebody who gets to hear of Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” and considers giving it a try might feel less adventurous if confronted with a work called “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell”.

How about Holst’s Fugal Concerto and Fugal Overture? Maybe Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture (though this is popular enough despite the possibility that the first adjective could be misconstrued as referring to a quality of the work), or all those works of his (and others) that are entitled “Klavierstück” followed by a number? What about “Die Kunst der Fuge”? Carl Ruggles once said “If you ask me , Brahms was just a big cissie. Look at some of his titles : Capriccio, Intermezzo. Now, what the hell does that mean?”

This reminds me of the work by Mendelssohn called “Spring Song” – a real classic, of course, charming in its way and immensely popular. It seems that he wrote this in London during one of his visits to these shores, and originally named it after the place where he was staying – “Camberwell Green”. How would it have fared if he had not changed his mind?

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