Television Review

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The Independent Culture
CLASSICAL MUSIC is a problem for the BBC. On the one hand, it wants to bolster its public service credentials (and in any case, it spends so much money on it through Radio 3 that it seems a waste not to get it on to television). On the other hand, nobody has yet come up with a way of making classical music work entirely satisfactorily on television: leave the music to speak for itself, and it looks dull; pump up the visual appeal and it gets distracting.

Anne-Sophie Mutter is clearly the answer to a TV producer's prayer, up to a point - an indisputably good violinist, who is beautiful enough to provide her own visual appeal. All the same, the first part of Anne-Sophie Mutter: My Year with Beethoven (BBC2) encapsulated the problems nicely. Last year, Mutter dropped her usual repertoire and elected to spend 1998 playing the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas, along with the pianist Lambert Orkis. The cycle has been filmed in six programmes, beginning last night with the "Spring Sonata".

The programme began by setting the context: some fairly vague discussion of the importance of Beethoven to the repertoire, and Mutter dropping some well-meaning remarks about the universality of his music. But this took second place to shots of Mutter bustling through an airport arrival lounge, lingering tourist-board views of the Parisian theatre where she was to perform (as well as, less relevantly, Stockholm, where she had performed on another occasion). What was being established was not Beeth- oven's place in musical history, but Mutter's combination of jet-setting glamour and artistic seriousness.

More useful was a brief rehearsal sequence, in which Mutter and Orkis joked about the relative importance of violin and piano within the work, and he told her a few things that she presumably already knew about Beethoven's relationship with the piano. And so on to the performance, which was very lovely, though at times it felt a little over-deliberate, over- analytical, the music being laid out for inspection. It was filmed pretty much straight, with a reasonably discreet series of shifts of camera angle, zooms and panning shots to stop it getting too dull. This was as good as filmed performance gets; which is to say, if you closed your eyes, it was like listening to the radio.

Another perennial BBC problem was offered for consideration earlier in the evening - viz, what on earth can they do with the barely distinguishable fat comedians Hale and Pace? Ignoring the suggestions that must have been pouring in from right-thinking citizens, the answer the BBC has come up with is to try them in yet another new format. h&p@bbc. (BBC1) was described as a "variety" show, but this turned out to mean only that they had found a variety of ways of being not very amusing: the obligatory computer jokes implied by the title; a celebrity quiz featuring minor-league celebrities being humiliated in minor ways. There was also a spoof of Stars in Their Eyes, with Anthea Turner pretending to be ex-Pogue Shane MacGowan - a conceit that turned out to be astonishingly void of comic possibilities. What can I say? It passed the time. Something has to.