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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past