Building a Library, Radio 3
Private Passions, Radio 3
Breakfast, Radio 3

While some presenters try too hard, many celebrate classical music without a fuss. Just brace yourself for a glut of Chopin and Schumann

The turn of the year is the time our publicly funded concert programmers bunk off and leave the field clear for Raymond Gubbay to make his annual killing.

This is a good moment, therefore, to take the pulse of Britain's biggest provider of classical music, Radio 3 – aka (as it's been pantingly reminding us) "UK Radio Station of the Year". But no one should be fooled by that title, which is a routine trade plaudit, Radio 2 and Classic FM being past "winners". Just how wonderful is Radio 3?

It's certainly better structured than it was, with plenty of late-night variety and an imaginative literary input; however, since concert performances are usually recorded rather than live, the studio grip is tightening. Yet in other areas more control is needed. The current mania for on-the-hoof links, rather than scripted studio-based ones, demands an expertise most presenters don't have: Boxing Day's Lessons with Mozart, in which a posse of gawpers descended on his Vienna apartment and marched into a composing seminar, was a case in point. Underpinned by a well-crafted commentary, this could have been a fascinating programme, but the wide-eyed gasps – "We're now in Mozart's kitchen!" – became mere garnish on a digital dog's dinner.

Something of this quality pervaded last Saturday's cosily parochial Hear and Now report by Sara Mohr-Pietsch and Robert Worby on the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. But in Catherine Bott's Early Music excursion into the pre-Christian history of carols, we got a lovely whiff of old-fashioned Radio 3 professionalism. Among the magazine programmes, Music Matters can often be a plod, but World Routes bravely continues to fly the flag for what it loves.

Building a Library on Saturday morning remains one of the station's unsung glories: David Fanning's trawl through recordings of Tchaikovsky's The Seasons followed a format which hasn't changed in 30 years, and I hope never will. It's not about finding anything so banal as "the best", it's about savouring the infinite variety of ways in which one piece of music can be played. Last week's Private Passions with the theatre director Katie Mitchell was a model of its kind, with no self-promotion by interviewer or interviewee, and with the music – Mitchell's taste was exquisite – centre stage.

But since the bulk of Radio 3's output, with its trails within trails, is mediated by disc jockeys, it's to them we must now turn. There was something priestly about the old Radio 3 announcers – you could almost smell the incense, hear the rustle of their robes – but they kept things simple, telling us who wrote what and when, plus the occasional contextualising fact. The new DJs have been instructed to "be themselves" – grisly studio banter and all – which forces us to react as much to them as to the music. And while some – notably Fiona Talkington, Iain Burnside, Louise Fryer, and Andrew McGregor – have successfully found ways to avoid grating on the nerves, with Geoffrey Smith the unimprovable host of Jazz Record Requests, others are quite literally a turn-off. A little of Lucie Skeaping's forced jollity on The Early Music Show goes a very long way, and one can easily tire of Verity Sharp's halting portentousness on Late Junction. When she describes some sludgy guitar-growler as "sublime", one knows that what she really means is "sublimely cool", and that true sublimity doesn't come into it. I can only take Sean Rafferty's Irish gush on In Tune when in very thick traffic, and just half-listening.

It's tough on young Sara Mohr-Pietsch – striving to make the grade in the alternating three-hour Breakfast slot – that she should be matched against a master of the demanding art of being fully oneself while also doing full justice to the music. With a lifetime's eclectic listening in his knapsack, Rob Cowan is relaxed, genial and authoritative. His aim is simply to share his enthusiasms with the rest of us, and his seemingly extracurricular digressions always have point and purpose. He's one of a kind.

Radio 3's obsession with composer anniversaries persists, as do its polls to find the audience's favourite. The latest culminated on New Year's Eve in a breathtakingly brainless "debate" that sought to compare four incomparables, led by Petroc Trelawny in motormouth mode, with one of the four celebrity "advocates" blissfully untainted by any knowledge of music at all. This year it's Chopin and Schumann. Stand by for "Chopin the anti-Semite", and tear-drenched drama-docs about Robert and Clara, plus desperate rants about Clara-the-great-composer. We've had such things already, but that won't prevent Radio 3 from doing plenty more.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable