Classical music: Shocked by electric Cole

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The Independent Culture
FOR YEARS I over-estimated Cole Porter's sense of sexual adventure. "Electric eels on my dad do it, though it shocks 'em I know" - surely those were the words Eartha Kitt seemed to be savouring in her nostrils, as if they were too intimate to make clear. It took Rebecca Caine, singing with the authentic enunciation of a musical comedy ingenue, ("Electric eels, I might add, do it") to straighten me out in last week's concert devoted to Porter's music Radio 3. "Let's Do It" was one of the several famous songs played by the BBC Concert Orchestra in newly commissioned orchestrations.

And what pleasure to hear these songs restored to their original freshness and the words crystal clear, and really acted. Nickolas Grace, who introduced the show, sang "Miss Otis Regrets" precisely as it should be sung, by an elderly butler.

It's a parody of a Western ballad, which is subverted by suggesting that the anti-heroine is a society lady whose only concern, as she's being strung up for murder, is to apologise for missing a lunch appointment with a lady friend. The tune is modelled on a corny cowboy song, yet genuinely touching and beautiful; when sung simply. Its mixture of tender feeling and cautionary advice gives it an edge lost when sung, out of context, by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald.

Not for nothing did Fitzgerald develop the art of scat-singing, which dispensed with words and their meaning. This was demonstrated, with stunning laboriousness, in Channel 4's dismal series, Jazz Heroes, shown on Sunday evenings.

The following programme was more enterprising, because it featured Gerry Mulligan, about whom at least there was some dirt to deliver (he was imprisoned for a drugs offence); but it was equally technophobic: Jon Surman had obviously been asked to explain "counterpoint"' as if it were the facts of life, and then understated what counterpoint really was - merely putting a bass to a melody hardly qualifies.