Classical Music: Radio 3 round-up Anthony Payne

`So personal in tone are these two works that she seems to be talking to you with complete candour'

Time was when Radio 3's long-running daily Composer of the Week came dangerously near to suffocating itself by refusing to range beyond an utterly safe repertory of popular masters. There was a limit to the number of variations that could be played on this theme, with so many composers being used up each year. Clearly the programme needed to cast its net more widely, and ultimately it did just that.

More recently it has found the time to focus on minority causes and cases of unjustified neglect. And last week it brought us music by two of the most arresting British composers of the past 60 years, yet two who were not always supported by the tide of fashion, Elisabeth Lutyens and Elizabeth Maconchy.

After decades of castigation by our conservative critical establishment for being a 12-tone serialist, Lutyens had a brief period of success in the Sixties and early Seventies, only to find herself once more out of step in an era of retrogression and easier listening. Composer of the Week included music from all these periods, and most impressive it was. Few composers in the Fifties could have matched her powerful orchestral work, Quincunx, while a group of 1971 pieces broadcast last Thursday showed how tumultuously productive she was when at the height of her power. Islands, an extraordinary concoction of settings from Sophocles to Rabelais for soprano, tenor and chamber orchestra, seemed, I remember, a little too discursive at its premiere, but now the sheer power and vitality of invention carries the day, and one's elation at hearing it again was tempered by shame for a musical establishment that can ignore such an arrestingly individual voice.

Her oboe quartet Driving Out the Death and a haunting piece for counter- tenor and old and new music ensembles, The Tears of Night, were no less impressive, while Triolet 2, from her final year, touchingly reminded us of her grit in a period of great difficulty.

Lutyens's junior by a year, Elizabeth Maconchy was not such a radical figure and sustained links with her less modernistic contemporaries. Yet she forged musical processes with an intellectual rigour that matched an intense range of emotion, and works like Music for Strings and the exquisite The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo, for choir and chamber group, made the most moving effect. So personal in tone are these two late works that the composer seems to be talking to you with complete candour, and you are only too ready to be her confidant. This revealing week was compered most sensitively by Lutyens's old pupil, Robert Saxton, and Maconchy's daughter Nicola LeFanu.

Hear and Now, Radio 3's latest weekly outlet for the music of our time, devoted a whole 135 minutes to the last work of the late Frank Zappa. Described as an opera-pantomime, Civilisation Phase III made rather odd listening, intercutting surreal conversations between people living inside a grand piano with a suite-like sequence of short and not obviously related pieces for Synclavier and live ensemble. Aficionados Robert Sandall, Mark Russell and Mark Anthony Turnage cast some light on the project, but the music obstinately refused to define its dramatic aims. What emerged was that Zappa's years on the wrong side of the tracks were worth it. He is something of a cult figure for some younger "straight" musicians, and has thus been overrated, but there is no denying the musical fluency, wit and freshness of many of the little instrumental pieces that make up the work. Figures like Nancarrow, Stravinsky and Varese hover near, but never inhibit personal expression.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

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

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week