Classical: On The Air

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The Independent Culture
SO JOAN Bakewell's interview series Artist of the Week and the ensuing Sound Stories hodgepodge has been cast out of Radio 3's weekday morning schedules after two less-than-dazzling years. Composer of the Week has been restored to its old 9am slot and Peter Hobday's Masterworks - the most coherently planned of the network's many record miscellanies - has been moved to 10.05am, with the intervening five minutes given over to a brief new series, Work In Progress, in which artists in various media are invited to reflect on their activities for a week (on the lines of the old In Short programmes that Hans Keller used to produce in order, as he put it, "to turn off the music tap" from time to time.)

With these welcome changes, Radio 3's new controller, Roger Wright, has freed the 11.30am to 1pm period for a new "strand" entitled Morning Performance, dedicated as often as possible to live relays of concerts or, as this week, to the performers in the network's current New Generation Artists scheme. Tuesday, for instance, brought a marvellously polished and springy account by the young Leopold Trio of Beethoven's String Trio in C Minor, Op 9 - that cogent and sweeping early masterpiece which already encapsulates so much of his later development.

As for weekday evenings: Night Waves has now been moved forward to 9.30pm which, while it presumably means an end to critics hot-footing it back to the studio from curtain-down at the London Coliseum, has opened up 10.15 - 11.30pm for an entirely new Monday-Thursday programme called Late Junction - billed in typically undetailed Radio Times fashion as a "series exploring different avenues of music, covering everything from plainchant to post-modern". Since this could mean more or less anything, one was left to speculate before last week's first edition as to whether it would prove a clever ruse to recapture the young listeners, early music buffs and ethnic music fans recently disenfranchised by the scrapping of The Music Machine, Spirit of the Age, and the Sunday-night world music programme - or whether it would simply turn out to be a trendier version of In Tune.

A bit of both, it would seem from the first seven editions. The format crosscuts fairly brief items of Latvian minimalism, English folksong, Joanna MacGregor playing Bach fugues, Balinese gamelan, Swedish fisherwomen's chants, Jan Garbarek improvising over Medieval polyphony on his puling saxophone, and so on, leading up to a more extended "meditative" piece such as Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia or Feldman's Coptic Light at about 11pm. Some of the choices, particularly of early music, have proved striking; some of the juxtapositions, sparky. But one detects more than a hint of (not so) New Age proselytising. Conspicuously excluded so far has been anything in the way of more demandingly developmental music, such as Beethoven trios (nor will one catch much of this late nights on Classic FM, which is largely given over to dreadful film scores and Alan Mann's Latest Thing.

The other minus so far has been the presentation by Fiona Talkington, who conveys almost no information about the music itself (one is expected to consult the BBC website for this or to send for a fact sheet), but instead gushes on about "my favourite Norwegian folk group" or "how thrilled we all are here at Late Junction by your sackfuls of e-mails, and, yes, Arthur of Slough, it's quite all right to listen to the programme by candlelight in the bath..." It falls to Verity Sharp, who takes over for a fortnight on Monday, to reassure us that late evening on Radio 3 has not been declared an adult-free zone.