Classical: As sung regularly on the Clapham omnibus

On The Air

LESLEY GARRETT Tonight, said Saturday's BBC2 billing, and it was Lesley Garrett tomorrow as well. Her South Bank Show profile (ITV, Sunday) arrived as the soprano with the mission to popularise opera faced a conundrum. She commands her biggest audiences ever, with recitals from Harrogate to Barbados, CDs that sell 100,000 copies, and now a weekly mid-evening series. And she isn't giving them opera at all.

She wants to get them into the theatres to see the real thing, she told Melvyn Bragg. She gets angry when people answer her by saying "it's not for us". She wants them to know opera was meant for them, an art with its roots in the mass audiences of the 19th century and imbued with a true popular touch.

Well, some of it: try telling that to Wagner or Berlioz. Never mind that it was all hijacked in the meantime by a set of people with vested interests in keeping the hoi polloi out. Who exactly is it that angers Garrett? The plutocrats for making opera exclusive, or the concert audiences for apparently being too stupid to come and see her on stage? This she did not say.

The Garrett phenomenon is as old as the hills. Opera or no opera, the public has always loved a bit of no-nonsense, old-fashioned belting. Look at the longevity of Friday Night is Music Night, still going strong on Radio 2. English stage sopranos with a big following and a bigger personality have always been able to work up a good line in concert appearances. Right now Garrett is cleaning up. Nothing wrong with that as long as nobody goes around pretending it's some kind of educational campaign. An off-screen record executive got to the root of it. "Lesley's into success," she said. "Of course there's a very strong musical philosophy there, but success is the greater part of our objective."

Anybody looking for televised music with a slightly wider frame of reference will have been heartened by the previous Saturday's World Music Night, tucked away at half past midnight on BBC2. Taken from a public performance in Maastricht, it gave lengthy airtime to several stars of the scene including singer Cesaria Evora and percussionist Trilok Gurtu. The staging was austere and some of the performances actually quite bland. But it was a foot in the door, and it shows how the programme makers are starting to adjust their sights

On British radio, world music remains in an unsettled state with Andy Kershaw's Radio 1 show pushed back to midnight on Thursdays and the Radio 3 Sunday half-hour currently stuck in a long series of repeats. What Radio 3 needs is its own Kershaw, somebody to bring the world scene passionately alive. Come to that, the original Kershaw might do nicely - the space to hear a broader repertoire from him would certainly be welcome.

Radio discovery of the week was Shostakovich's 12th Symphony. It has so often been dismissed as empty noise that an unexpected encounter with it on Classic FM (Monday) came as a shock. Bombast it wasn't, at least as played on CD by the Concertgebouw Orchestra with Bernard Haitink.

This performance gradually amassed weight and breadth to finish with terrifying intensity. Shostakovich knew how to make music scream in a major key. With the years, each of his once-notorious brassy finales shows its different character ever more clearly: No 5 deadpan, No 6 like the circus, No 7 wholehearted, No 12 positively agonised. How did nobody notice?

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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