Platée, Artsworld<br></br>Sounds Like Christmas, Artsworld<br></br>Chopin: Perfect Fragments, BBC 4<br></br>Don Giovanni, BBC 4<br></br>Desert Dreams, BBC 2

Bat or mouse? I'd go for the one about the frog instead

No concerts. No operas. Whatever shall we do? Why, let's do what everyone else does at this time of year and reach for the remote control. As one who goes out for a living, I like TV. You don't have to get all dressed up to watch it. You don't have to pay £6 for an interval spritzer. You can dial for a curry in the middle of an aria and there's absolutely no chance of bumping into an artist that you've been rude about unless you've been so successfully rude that they're working deliveries for Bombay Nights. Best of all, if someone starts fidgeting in front of you, you can send them to their room without so much as a plain poppadum and still feel smug that you're not one of those wicked working mothers who sacrifice their children's wellbeing for the sake of their careers. At least, not this week.

So far, so good. Armed with notebook, pen and pre-schooler, I was ready to take working from home to a new level of inertia. But, like a coeliac vegan at an Arkansas pig bake, this home-lovin' classical music critic found slim pickings in the terrestrial schedules. On BBC 1 and ITV, there was nothing. On BBC 2, only Carols from King's, the annual Lesley Garrett love-in (of which, more later) and the Glyndebourne production of Die Fledermaus, which I'd already seen. Meanwhile, Channel 4 offered a five-minute glimpse of Operatunity's Jane and Denise gingerly pecking their way through Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel - and, truth be told, their voices have never been as interesting as their personalities. What was a girl to do? The answer lay in a subscription to Artsworld: the satellite channel whose post-turkey-and-trimmings freeview offering this Christmas Day was Rameau's Platée - an opera about a frog.

Now, if you're going to compete head-on with a movie about a talking mouse (Stuart Little on BBC 1) and an opera about a bat (Die Fledermaus on BBC 2), Platée is a very smart choice. And for those with small children, it's amazing what can be achieved with repeated utterances of "Don't you want to see what happens to froggy?" and some truly magnificent choreography - incorporating baroque gesture, break-dancing and some of the finest fantasy ballets seen outside of a Stanley Donen movie - from Laura Scozzi. Laurent Pelly's 2002 Opéra Garnier production - beautifully captured for television by Don Kent - was so tight and stylish and thrilling in each and every detail as to be irresistible. With a fabulous cast led by Paul Agnew as the eponymous amphibian singleton - surely the only anthropomorphic drag role for a tenor? - this was a real treat: an ensemble production of such uniform excellence that even Mireille Delunsch's scintillating La Folie couldn't overshadow the rest. Under Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre played with power, wit and pathos, and with eyes fixed on their conductor's every nuance. And if Artsworld repeat Platée, I'd urge anyone who missed it not to make the same mistake again.

Not so their other seasonal offering Sounds like Christmas. But putting Tomasz Stanko and Angelika Kirchschlager into a freezing Austrian monastery chapel ("Mummy, why are they in a bathroom?") and expecting them to come up with a jazz impro version of Von Himmel hoch is a daft idea. As it turned out, both musicians did what they do best, with Stanko noodling between verses before hitting a pedal note and Kirchschlager singing exquisitely. Male-voice a cappella group Ensemble Amacord sang nicely and the Freiburger Barockorchester played brilliantly but this could not be called good television. The multiple close-ups of votive candles and snowy exteriors merely revealed the panic of a television director with no action to fill his air-time, though the Freiburgers' classy performance of Correlli's Concerto Grosso Op 6 no 8 was still the longest piece of instrumental music to be heard on television all week.

As opposed to BBC 4's Chopin: Perfect Fragments series, which at five minutes per fragment - for which, read Etude or Prelude - were the shortest, barring Jane and Denise. Expertly played by Alfredo Perl and, in the introductory documentary, Freddy Kempf, these fragments were also notably well-shot. But just how marginalised is classical music going to become if BBC 4 won't allow more time than that? Thank heavens for the preview tape of Peter Brook's pared-down Don Giovanni from Aix-en-Provence (7.15pm, Wednesday, BBC 4): superb conducting from Daniel Harding, a fine cast, a more urgent style of recitative secco than any I've heard, and definitely one to watch.

Which just leaves time for Lesley Garrett's Desert Dreams (BBC 2): a baffling bran-tub of, I presume, faintly erotic imagery - Greek masks, paper moons, fairy lights, brass beds and dancing horses - filmed in the style of One From The Heart meets The Sheltering Sky as reconceived by Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. Dominated by predictable shots of Ms Garrett's disco-queen manicure and mumsy cleavage - hey, I have one too - Desert Dreams contained only one major surprise: the most ravishingly decorated and sweetly phrased account of Purcell's strophic version of If music be the food of love that I've heard in a long while. Could it be that there's more to the mother superior of middle-brow music than meets the eye? I guess we'll have to wait until next Christmas to find out.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

Comments