Tales from the Stave, Radio 4, Tuesday
The Essay, Radio 3, Monday-Wednesday
Two inspiring, thoughtful programmes, and one annoying executive
Sunday 06 February 2011
The best ideas are usually simple, and whoever had the notion of examining a famous piece of music by poring, breathless and white-gloved, over the original manuscripts deserves a banker-sized bonus.
I've only just caught up with Tales from the Stave and, on Tuesday's evidence, it's been my loss.
Frances Fyfield enlisted the help of the academic Richard Langham Smith and mezzo Bea Robein to inspect Bizet's score for Carmen. "I'm very excited," Robein giggled. "I feel like a soprano." They charted the progress of the writing, the rewrites and out-takes, and saw how towards the end Bizet's handwriting changed, "as if he's writing quicker and more passionately" as Langham Smith observed. It was all brought to life brilliantly – and, best of all, it made you want to go and listen to the music through newly opened ears.
One delight I haven't been missing out on is The Essay, which provides the perfect evocative, thoughtful lead-in to Late Junction. The poet Ruth Padel was in the chair with five pieces about the animals closest to British hearts. The first three were deer, robins and badgers, and Padel took us deep into the British psyche with her inquisitive, probing spirit. Her writing is always refined, but the pieces were mostly informative and not too heavy on the poetics, a good thing in my book.
All three animals have been severely compromised by the modern world, and Padel's underlying message was clear: as Gandhi said, a society can be judged by the way it treats its animals. "Managing the wild means managing aspects of ourselves," said Padel – and I'm not sure we do either very well.
Everything radio-related has been overshadowed this past week by the news that Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie are moving from Radio 2 in the evenings to an afternoon gig on 6 Music. It sounds as if the controller of the two stations, Bob Shennan, who replaced Lesley Douglas when she fell on her Sachsgate sword, is throwing his weight around, letting us know he's there. Taking away the Thursday show was a shot across the R&M bows, probably to soften them up so that being shunted off altogether wouldn't seem so painful.
Though Radcliffe was putting a positive spin on things, they must surely feel it's a demotion. Maconie says 6 Music is his "spiritual home", but what he and Radcliffe have been doing is channelling the 6 Music spirit on to the Radio 2 airwaves – a neat sleight of hand, like sneaking a BBC4 programme on to BBC1 and getting away with it.
6 Music is a fine thing, and I'm glad it was reprieved last year, but The Radcliffe and Maconie Show deserves a mass audience. I just can't see how Jo Whiley, capable as she is, can be an improvement.
And what's more ... I've spent most weekday evenings over the past few years pottering in the kitchen listening to R&M, so speaking for myself it's a bit of a bummer. There is iPlayer, of course, but that's just not the same as listening live, and it would mean I'd have to get a laptop. So I'm not happy. That alone should make Shennan reconsider.
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