Music on Radio

Lest anyone think that Radio 3 was devoted to seasonal baubles, The Finishing Touch last Saturday afternoon took music back to its only begetters: musicians. First of a masterclass series that promises much, this programme featured teacher James Gibb with postgraduate student Juliet Allen playing Beethoven's E minor Sonata, Op 90. Pianists both amateur and professional (but especially amateurs, who must surely count for a goodly number of R3 listeners) will have welcomed this urbane display of insight and wisdom. More's the pity there was only time for a full discussion of the first movement.

After all, as Gibb took pains to show, the drama is in the detail. Through minute attention to attack, dynamics and phrasing he brought a whole new world of expressive nuance to Allen's playing. By way of contrast, there was also the tale of the famous pianist (name withheld) who startled a well-informed listener with a fine but wayward reading of a classical work. "And what edition are you using?" the listener asked. "Edition?" replied the master. "Haven't a clue. I've not seen the music in 20 years."

It was a happy anecdote, both as a warning to heed and to ignore the text. Gifted performers will always ennoble the music, urtext or otherwise. If they happen to be composers themselves, they may even displace the composer's intentions, not least in areas of taste and technique. Mahler the conductor-composer is famous for re-scoring Schumann's symphonies. In Chopin by Arrangement last Sunday, the subject was a lesser-known act of musical refurbishment: the Chopin First Piano Concerto as re-scored by Mily Balakirev and played in a fine old recording by Friedrich Gulda and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

There were certainly gains in this version, which commends itself for more frequent use in the concert hall. To the long orchestral prelude, knotty and raw as Chopin left it, Balakirev brought a patina of woodwind melody and a dash of humour. An overall sense of fullness was no less welcome, not least for its echoes of things to come: Scriabin and Rachmaninov, where the school of Chopin met the school of Tchaikovsky on the grandest scale. On the debit side was the lack of pressure of invention, the besetting fault of many such arrangements. Velvet and plush in its custom-built outfit, it purred along like a sleek simulacrum of the original. Saint- Saens's two-piano scoring of the "Funeral March" Sonata had a similar fat-cat feel. A medley of versions of the "Minute" Waltz, arranged by virtuosi to display their skills, had the tune in thirds and decked out with vulgar ornament. Tarty but honest.

For The Life and Times of the Symphony, running through Christmas week, Independent music critic Stephen Johnson set out his composers in pairs. On Boxing Day it was the turn of Mahler and Sibelius, and here was the strangest of noises: not the miraculous link forged by Sibelius between the first movement and scherzo of his Fifth Symphony as we know it, but the ungainly juncture of its original version sounding oafish and lumpen.

Famously "the slave of his themes", Sibelius struggled for years like a virtuous Platonist until their ideal form was discovered. The artistic reward was a rare sense of the inevitable, but the price could be heard in that awkward break, sounding like a mighty grumble. He'd reached a brick wall, thrown in the towel, and the music says take it or leave it. There are times, after all, when we all feel like that. Not so many, however, have second thoughts that encompass the sublime.

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

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

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game