RADIO / From French to Greek, via Waterloo

'QUEL age as-tu?' demands a stern woman. Silence. What is this? It should be Glushchenko conducting Grieg. No time for dithering. 'Repondez]' she insists, menacingly. Then the penny dropped. I'd tuned in to Radio 3 a moment too soon and had joined Le Club, a primary French lesson (all they ever seem to teach is how to find out somebody's age). Schools programmes, ejected from Radio 5, have slid into an uncomfortable afternoon slot on the wrong channel, and all over the land confused music- lovers are trying to remember the French for 'In my early seventies, actually'.

Hunting for lovely music, I found Concert Hall (World Service), where Mark Lowther was introducing a glorious recording of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. 'The acme of shapelessness,' early critics called it, 'delirium, with no trace of harmony or melody.' Even Weber thought its composer was 'ripe for the madhouse'. In fact, Beethoven was ripe for a hearing-aid. In 1812, Louis Spohr played in the orchestra for its first performance, Beethoven's last as conductor. He said that the great man would crouch very low for the quiet bits and leap to his feet shouting when it got louder. Sadly, so deaf was he by then, he got the timing wrong. But his audience, better critics than the professionals, loved it. Lowther expressed the hope that somewhere among his listeners was a lucky soul about to hear it for the first time.

The music of Abba was celebrated in Waterloo Revisited (R2). Though at the time the group was dismissed as 'relentlessly trivial' (those critics again), Terry Wogan defends them, claiming that they were the best thing that ever came out of Eurovision. It's hard to decide if he was right or not, now that the ageing super- troupers have become an undergraduate cult: my daughter knows enough about them now to go on Mastermind. They were certainly better than The Shuttleworths - Europigeon (R4), a mildly engaging if overextended joke about a man who wrote a truly dreadful song and offered it to poor, hopeless Norway as their Eurovision entry. It was painful to hear the charming politeness of the girl in Oslo answering the phone to him, having to listen to his nonsense - and strange to think that, had it not been for Abba, he might have chosen to ridicule Sweden instead.

Two plays on Radio 4 unearthed skulduggery in earlier times. The Campden Wonder lingered gloatingly over a public hanging in the 1670s. The 'wonder' of the title was, presumably, to do with the fact that the victim of a real murder, for which three people were executed, turned up alive and well some years later, but I had stopped caring. The point being made seemed to be that among our barbrous forbears, hangings were carnival events. Every choke and guttering gurgle was recreated in loving stereo. It was a real turn-off.

Much better was Gabrielle and the Gargoyles which told the story of a woman stone-

mason who, working secretly at night, caricatured her companions while creating a frieze of vices for a nobleman's chantry. York Minster received a rare credit for the sound-effects as she plunged to her death from the embrace of the angel she carved at the end. A clever and thoughtful play, it lingered in the mind, reminding us how tough it has always been to be a woman whose skills are considered inappropriate to her sex. Also, rather like William Golding's novel, The Spire, it raised questions of how posterity can conceive of the inventiveness and ambition of medieval craftsmen, whose work continues to astonish us as we wonder about their lives.

Radio 3's Greek season included Angels and Gangsters, a fascinating inquiry into modern Greek poetry. John Theocharis, a poet himself, described the effect on Greece of 400 years of Ottoman occupation. It had to leap from the Middle Ages to the 19th century without 'the floodlit bridge of Romanticism'. How well it succeeded was clear when he visited five Athenian poets and listened to them read. He described their demotic Greek as a 'beautiful, expressive language with large, open-hearted vowels and assertive, crusty consonants', and so it is. Janet Suzman read translations of Maro Stassinopoulos and Olga Vorsti, in that coolly intelligent voice of hers. Kostas Ghimosoulis, a solicitor-poet, standing in his city flat where the traffic fumes meet the cloud of descending smog, gave an arresting definition of poetry. It is like filling a tooth, he said, you seal up with something solid an empty space taken up by pain.

In the best Classic Serial (R4) for ages, the fiery young D'Artagnan (Quel age as-tu? Dix-neuf ans? Sacre Bleu]) buckled on his swash to join The Three Musketeers for an exuberant gallop and a noisy clash of steel against the forces of evil, as represented by the wily Cardinal, the sinuous Milady and the man from Meung, his face the colour of tripe.

This superb adaptation brought out all the urbanity and wit of Dumas' original. There was the King trying to discipline his heroic daredevils - 'they don't call me Louis the Just for nothing'. All for one and one for all, they offered to die a thousand deaths for him. Languidly, Louis replied: 'Only if you must, I prefer you alive.' They promise to bring Thursday morning alive for another five weeks.

Finally, I can report that Sybil Ruscoe on Five (R5) has reached the bottom of the barrel in her search for snippets of information not covered elsewhere. But without her, we might never have known of the Earlybird Threadworm Awareness Campaign. A grateful nation salutes you, Sybil.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
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
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.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape