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.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there