Music on Radio & TV

If the lack of in-depth coverage of classical music remains the most serious flaw in television arts programming, the occasional operatic productions that are brought to us partly compensate. Certainly, the most spectacular broadcast of last week was Channel 4's relay from Glyndebourne of Graham Vick's new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut, which could be heard simultaneously on BBC Radio 3 (although with quite separate commentary). The work's extraordinarily compressed dramatic structures, problematic as far as some commentators are concerned, revolutionarily aphoristic to others, seem particularly suited to TV. The powerful immediacy of the medium and the speed with which it can marshal contrasting feelings and thoughts is perfectly matched to an opera that bypasses rational narrative and links disjunct events with an almost expressionist logic.

The camera, of course, can reveal in close-up aspects of a performance that are necessarily lost on the more distantly placed theatre audience. This is not always to the advantage of individual singers, and Adina Nitescu's Manon was revealed to be more of an innocent Micaela figure than the fascinatingly ambivalent creature envisioned in Prevost's original novel and tantalisingly encapsulated by Puccini (something that was perhaps less obvious in the theatre). Patrick Denniston's ardent and ultimately agonised Des Grieux, on the other hand, suited the small screen admirably, and all in all the fluid camera work in Humphrey Burton's TV production, together with Vick's telling staging and Richard Hudson's designs, made this more than just a record of a theatrical event, rather a genuinely televisual piece of music-drama.

A composer who, while little more than a teenager looked set to rival, if not surpass, Puccini's phenomenal commercial success in the theatre, and was indeed much admired by that master (along with others of the stature of Mahler, Sibelius and Strauss), became in mid-life neglected and critically reviled, and died in 1957 almost totally forgotten.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the subject of Radio 3's Composer of the Week this week (final programme 11.30pm tonight), is a fascinating figure belonging to a group including Schmidt, Schreker and Pfitzner who ploughed an alternative furrow to the Second Viennese School, and consequently became overshadowed by their more radical contemporaries.

I hope we no longer pay heed to the idea of "historical necessity" which asserts that conservative and backward-looking styles contribute nothing to the progress of art and, as such, should be ignored. Korngold and others of his ilk offer alternative traditions that can only enrich music history, and if Brendan Carroll's touching survey of his music, from early operatic successes to later Hollywood mastery, revealed a slightly inconsistent artist, it also focused on works, like the Second String Quartet and Serenade for Strings, whose individuality of utterance and expressive concentration we would be the poorer for not knowing.

Few are the teenage composers who have been able to match the wunderkind Korngold's astounding sophistication and technical mastery, but it was fascinating to follow the fortunes of a group of young and inexperienced composers as they fulfilled commissions for short chamber pieces to be performed in BBC's Music Live Festival. Radio 3's Music Machine last week dropped in on sessions with their composition tutors, where it was good to hear plain speaking, and a healthy lack of muso-jargon. All the pieces were fresh and honest, relying on hard-core invention as much as on the manipulation of material. And subsequent performances of the five pieces during the course of In Tune confirmed their qualityn Anthony Payne

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