Radio round-up World Service

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The Independent Culture
International listeners may depend on the BBC's World Service lifeline, but here it's largely the forgotten radio station: only dedicated explorers of the airwaves discover how much more extensive its music coverage is than that of other non-specialist networks. You have to work at finding it. From the full listings, you plot your way through five broadcasting streams for different global areas; a separate contents summary, crudely divided into "popular" and "classical", makes it easy to miss something good, yet make the effort and you can feel united with nuts and kindred spirits everywhere, as if on a wireless-age Internet.

What kind of scene does it portray? Most music broadcasts turn up in the European stream, though only a few Proms. Up to 10 weekly classical programmes, some heard three times, account for an hour or so most days in formats ranging from straight performance to reportage. This week there wasn't so much on the journalistic front, though Anthony Burton's upbeat Music Review packed in five succinct items with topical pegs ranging from new books (Satie) to CDs (Philip Brunelle's series on black Americans). It wasn't clear why the network needed a 50-years-on "assessment" of Webern, but Paul Griffiths did an elegant enough job.

The newish Masterclass is about pieces in the grade-exam syllabuses. It's worth eavesdropping if they are all as involving as Raphael Wallfisch's way with Grade 8 pieces by Saint-Saens and Faure. French style, upbow staccato, how to change expressive nuances with degrees of attack or choice of strings: for a non-string player it's like being let in on secret tricks. Goodness knows if it helps anyone pass, but it must be great to have the moral support.

The other extreme of programming, Concert Hall, went smoothly enough this time with Vaughan Williams and Britten venerating their elders in music for strings. It will take more than that to shift memories of four weeks ago when the tape started halfway through. The result was one and a half performances of Grieg's Lyric Suite, divided by an interlude of faded-in guitar while they failed to solve the problem, and two baffled continuity announcers. From a service not famed for its humour this was a fine moment.

Elsewhere, Bartok was composer of the month, the Concertgebouw played what the listings billed as Berg's Piano Concerto (no wonder it was only beamed to South Africa), and Edward Greenfield shared Bach and Schumann from his record collection with listeners in Lesotho and Ashford - just like Dave Lee Travis the day before, playing the Average White Band for somebody in Namibia. All in all, it's a bolder classical mix than you would expect for a general audience. But it doesn't have the wide-ranging, quirky programmes that other kinds of music enjoy, such as Ian Anderson's Folk Routes, covering five far-flung countries in a quarter of an hour and ending with a piece from Austria called Fast Food in A which sounded like improvised HK Gruber. Maybe it's time to inject some more vitality. Let's see how they get on with The Great Lovers, starting next week - fingers crossed for Tchaikovsky.