Music on radio: Oh for a little nastiness and some stimulation...

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The Independent Culture
From Berlioz to Wolf, composers have doubled as music critics. But it seems a bit unfair to put them in a situation where they feel obliged to say nice things about colleagues. Composers are not luvvies, and let's face it, well-meaning appreciation can have an awfully numbing effect. There's nothing like a bit of nastiness to stimulate attention.

On Hear and Now last Friday, the ever sanguine Sarah Walker put Andrew Hugill on the spot by asking him about Kagel, Jonathan Harvey and Berio, the other composers represented. Hugill didn't give any sign that their music meant much to him, or had an influence on his own. (The composer who would have filled that bill is Gavin Bryars.) Half of what Hugill did say was more than slightly cued by Walker, who naughtily asked him whether the vocal writing in Berio's Sequenza III still seemed fresh. When he was polite about it, she returned the compliment: "You seem to have a very strong response to all the music in today's programme" - not a ghost of sarcasm in her voice. It might have been different, had Hugill chosen the programme. He probably chose only the first item, Sorabji's Le jardin parfume. Provocatively, this was only identified after it was played, so that we might have thought it was a new piano piece by Michael Finnissy. Hugill alludes to it near the end of his own Nocturne, which duly ended the bill. Scored for two pianos and percussion, the piece was played by the pianists Andrew Ball and Suzanne Cheetham, and Simon Allen on all sorts of percussion with aromatic non-tempered tunings. The music was very relaxed and fairly varied, and it would be hard to tell from it what Hugill's other recent pieces were like. Nothing wrong with that - it's simply to say that Nocturne didn't make a strong personal statement.

In The Sunday Feature: Schubert's Sommerreise, David Constantine, blessed with a comfortable style of speaking (there was no "side" to him), retraced Schubert's four-month tour of Upper Austria, performing his songs with the eminent baritone, Johann Michael Vogl. Bits of the Great C major Symphony, which Schubert wrote partly on the trip, threaded the 45 minutes of this meditative documentary - very much "travelling" music, as Roger Norrington pointed out. At Bad Gastein, Vogl, who was 30 years Schubert's senior and suffered from gout, took the waters. It sounds like a ghastly place now. But then, as Constantine motored back to Vienna on the Autobahn, he mused that all Schubert would recognise today was the moon. A nice thought, because it tacitly brought to mind one of Schubert's best-known "walking" songs, Der Wanderer an der Mond, in which the restless singer envies the moon for its sense of permanence.

It has been a good period for pianists, with Kevin Kenner playing Chopin in Ensemble last Thursday, and the French pianist Eric Le Sage giving a terrific recital of music all influenced by the tradition of Commedia dell'arte on Sunday. He played not only Schumann's Carnaval, but his rarely heard Intermezzi, Op 4 - scintillating virtuoso pieces assembled with a characteristic, very fresh abruptness. Neither do you often hear Poulenc's three pieces called Napoli - not so typical of him, though that didn't stop either Arrau or Rubinstein from playing them. Then on Tuesday, Rachmaninov's piano music was featured in Composer of the Week, without a presenter, but with Peter Donohoe and Stephen Hough talking, sometimes quite controversially, one mainly about the music, the other about interpretations, exemplified by a range of pianists from the composer onwards. There was a real coup yesterday, with the American Joseph Villa burning up the Second Sonata in a performance that risked everything, and was recorded, fortunately, by a member of the audience at a New York recital which Villa gave in 1991; he died two years ago. Stephen Hough ought to be given a further programme (or two) to allow him to demonstrate how Frank Sinatra came closer than Sviatoslav Richter to the type of rubato Rachmaninov used. Not that I doubt him.