Classical: On The Air

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The Independent Culture
"WHEN YOU'RE an arrogant child, you think you can do anything," said Dame Felicity Lott when Joan Bakewell (Artist of the Week, R3, Monday to Friday) quizzed her about her beginnings. Only in her late twenties did Lott realise that singing Schubert was harder than falling off a log. Little Big Voice (R4, last Tuesday) could not have made her point more cruelly. Step forward Charlotte Church - no relation, though I too hail from Wales - who perkily informed us of her ambition to be acclaimed at La Scala in Tosca, La Boheme or Madam Butterfly. On the evidence of this Hello!-style portrait, she'll need to spend the next 10 years on a learning curve of vertical steepness.

She has what the record label Deutsche Grammophon calls The Voice of an Angel - but then so has that blind belter Andrea Bocelli, who's lost without his mike. Church's pinched little sound can be heard in any school choir, yet she had the gall to patronise Lesley Garrett as being way below the artistic heights to which she herself aspires.

When her obsequious interviewer sought to compare her with Adelina Patti and Jenny Lind, Church did at least protest that she was not a prodigy, but nothing she said indicated that she was aware of the slog which Garrett- level singing entails. Her existence turns on quite different things. She loves pop, is "amazingly into shoes and cuddly toys", and her ideal day is spent lounging around with friends and consuming limitless supplies of Coca-Cola and fruit gums. As Hollywood is "beckoning", I suggest that she goes for it quick.

Since The Artist Formerly Known As Nige is now 43, Susannah Simons's description of him as "a young man at the peak of his powers" sounded a trifle odd (Masters of Their Art, Classic FM, Saturday). In the course of a businesslike interview she extracted some nice stuff about the way Kennedy hunts the requisite "spark" without which he can't perform a piece, as well as an insouciant put-down of Mozart's violin concertos ("I can't see much in 'em, so I don't play 'em").

When Simons spoke admiringly of Kennedy "debunking the myth of the classical musician", he did not demur. But what exactly is this "myth"? It may come clad in white tie and tails, and may imply a specific musical aesthetic - full marks to Kennedy for bucking these trends - but it also implies a wide-ranging professionalism that is not a "myth" but reality. And the reality of Kennedy's repertoire is that it's limited to a few works trotted out year after year. This not-so-young magician has a very small box of tricks.

There were other things about this programme to give pause for thought. It had been preceded by Henry Kelly presenting Sarah Chang's record of Vaughan Williams's A Lark Ascending, yet this was one of the works we also got in full from Kennedy. Moreover, by an extraordinary glitsch, a full minute of Simons's spiel was inadvertently dropped into the adverts, and was then repeated. Was no one minding the shop? Or is it assumed that people don't listen closely to this sort of programme? Never mind, the Rover 75 which Kennedy is promoting got its vital plug.

This being Cardiff Singer of the Year week, both Music Matters (R3, Sunday) and the BBC World Service's Music Review ruminated on this sporting event's place in the star system. If the former won on points, it's worth remembering that these programmes represent not duplication but essential diversity; different audiences require different editorial styles.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Channel 4 broadcast Graham Vick's superb production of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande from Glyndebourne. Humphrey Burton's film was exemplary, reflecting the work's somnambulistic momentum without a trace of tricksiness. In the interval, however, we were treated to a critical discussion by Sue Lawley, Oliver James, Howard Goodall and Ken Russell - three ignoramuses and a bigot. At least it proved to be mercifully short.

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