The Full Works, Classic FM

Enough of the Malian lute – bring back Beethoven
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The Independent Culture

I have found myself brooding on the way that Radio 3, alone among radio's success stories, has been losing listeners. This is not automatically a bad thing: it could mean simply that it has become more discerning.

Last Monday night I found myself in the mood to switch on Radio 3 and stretch out on the sofa with a good book. This proved impossible for, from 11.15 onwards, the station was broadcasting highlights of the Womad festival for what seemed like hours. One salutes Radio 3's commitment to this kind of thing, but there is only so much of Chinese singing sensation Sa Dingding one can take at once. (I should have known that Monday nights have been off limits to the more old-school kind of Radio 3 listener for some months. And it would appear that there are endless reserves of world music.)

On Wednesday, I felt like doing the same thing, only this time a bit earlier, with the Proms. I had forgotten that the world-music menace had spread its tentacles even into this august institution. And the strange thing about world music is that it goes on and on much longer than anything else, with the exception of Wagner. And I know this makes me sound terribly hidebound and snobbish, but I simply wasn't in the mood to listen to Bassekou Kouyate, who "has brought a fresh approach to the traditional Malian ngoni lute". (And about time too, I hear you say. Unless, of course, you think traditional ngoni lute music is itself unimprovable. I shall let both sides slog it out among themselves.)

At this point I began to remember that there was another station which played what is loosely called classical music. So I found myself tuning to Classic FM. There was something dif-ferent about it, I noticed after a while. It was that the station was playing works in their entirety. Nothing too adventurous: Beethoven's eighth, Mozart's 36th, that kind of thing; I thought I heard the words "Winston Marsupial" at one point and had a bit of a panic but it turned out it was Wynton Marsalis playing Haydn's Trumpet Concerto in E flat. The programme, called The Full Works and presented by John Brunning, is on nightly. You endure adverts for cholesterol-lowering products, hernia specialists, endowments, and those car insurers who believe you when you say it wasn't your fault. But you are hearing the full works.

And I am afraid this is where Radio 3 listeners go when their favourite station doesn't feel like home any more. I didn't re-tune to the station until the next day. The burnt hand fears the fire.

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