MUSIC / Don't hit the delete button yet: Independent music writers raid their memories for the best events of 1993 in concert and on stage

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The Independent Culture

OCTOBER octogenarian Shura Cherkassky reigned supreme at the Wigmore Hall. To hear him chart the noble course of Rameau's Gavotte with Variations, excite Liszt's well-worn Second Rhapsody into a cloud of musical paprika, or trace the subtle rhythmic thread of a Chopin Mazurka, reminded us of a time when musical personalities ruled the airwaves. But best of all were the encores: Tchaikovsky's heart-rending evocation of October and a keyboard realisation of Saint-Saens' The Swan that was as flowing and graceful as the bird itself. The audience applauded long and lovingly while, as the song says, the memory lingered on.


A LITTLE-TRUMPETED London debut by the Moscow-based Ensemble XXI in February put our own musical financial worries in perspective. Members of this cosmopolitan chamber orchestra put money and mouth in closest proximity by committing themselves to living and working within the Russian rouble economy. They can play a bit, too. Equally heartwarming, a bumper Leonard Bernstein 'birthday' concert at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival raised funds for, and gave a European profile to, Classical Action, a New York organisation founded this year to raise megabucks within classical music for Aids sufferers. Its creator, Charles Hamlen, surrendered one of the top jobs in US music management to follow his vision.


MY musical event of this Monteverdi anniversary year was undoubtedly the production of L'Incoronazione di Poppea at Bologna. During the year I heard Mark Tucker give a marvellously human account of Orfeo, and Anne Sofie von Otter a brilliantly compelling interpretation of Octavia, but as an unrivalled experience of music theatre the Bologna Poppea (produced by Graham Vick, with an almost all-Italian cast and an Anglo-American continuo team directed by . . . my husband Ivor Bolton) was it. You might say I'm biased - I couldn't possible comment.


TWO dates, one surprise. Enrique Diemecke and the Royal Philharmonic turned an empty September night at the Barbican to blazing Mexican intensity with showstoppers by Silvestre Revueltas and Jose Pablo Moncayo (Bernstein with a double helping of chilli). Many more people shared the anticipation for November's QEH visit by Ustad Bismillah Khan, the veteran virtuoso who took the rustic, reedy tones of the shehnai to the rarefied world of the classical Indian recital. He doesn't have the flexibility of old, but with half-a-dozen ferociously concentrating fellow musicians, the improvising duly soared and seared its way into a thousand memories.


NO operatic or concert event of 1993 has haunted this pair of ears quite like the ingeniously planned, four-evening retrospective Radio 3 mounted last May of the turbulent happenings of 1968. Simple nostalgia one could hardly feel for political events and artistic manifestations that were in many ways naive or self-deluding. Yet to listen again to archival clips and taped performances of the time was to be reminded how much the pursuit of the new and uncompromising in music could still mean only 25 years ago - before the values of universal consumerism began to bury all.


THE delete button has worked remarkably well on my concert recollections this year. London's classical-music-on-a-plate is seldom remembered as nourishing. But the Wynton Marsalis late-night Prom of 19 August stays with me: I didn't want to watch TV, I was tired, but I couldn't tear myself away from those long, constantly shocking and surprising, virtuoso jazz meditations on the life and music of the American South. Soon I wasn't tired at all.


TEN days ago, with the Arts Council trouble at its height, the Philharmonia gave a performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony under Yevgeny Svetlanov at the Festival Hall which achieved true catharsis. I will long remember the emotional power and instrumental virtuosity of the playing and Svetlanov's revelation of the layers of meaning in Tchaikovsky's inspired first-movement structure. Individual incidents were characterised with the utmost dramatic intensity, yet all were forged into a cogent symphonic span - an interpretation searingly worthy of one of the 19th-century's most courageous artistic statements.


ANY staging of Rameau is worth a cheer. City of Birmingham Touring Opera's way with Les Boreades didn't please everybody, but Graham Vick matched the composer's vision with a consistency that allowed the score to work its magic for most of a modern audience. Rampant authenticists hated it; my only problem was with some of the singing. Bold, as Julian and Sandy might have said.


FAVOURITE image: two metronomes placed either side of piano- duo team of Thorson and Thurber at their November ICA recital; the piece, Laszlo Vidovszky's canonic Pastime, a stern 20th-century parable about wasted musical durations. The metronomes never ticked, never moved. Were things meant this way, or had someone forgotten to switch them on?