Classical Music on Radio 3

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Jane Austen did not like going to concerts. In a letter she described professional musicians as "hirelings". Yet she practised the piano daily and made her own collection of music, transcribing all kinds of pieces, including orchestral, so that she could enjoy them in private. Spirit of the Age on Sunday afternoon broadcast a selection, and Michelene Wandor (adapter of Persuasion for radio) milked two music-loving experts on Austen for all there was to know about music in her life and work. Wandor's touch of severity contrasted with the unselfconscious flamboyance of Jonathan Keates, irrepressible man-about-music-and-literature, who talked about the role of music in the novels. There it plays a significant part, bringing characters together, though only one composer's name is ever mentioned, Johann Baptist Cramer, in Emma. By today's standards, Austen's musical horizons seem near-sighted - she was indifferent to the great names that became indispensable to posterity. Yet Keates insisted that both Emma and Pride and Prejudice would be impoverished by removing music which encapsulates in those novels the conflict between private feeling and social display.

The conflict between love and duty was the nub of Ildebrando Pizzetti's Debora e Jaele, broadcast on Monday evening in a concert performance recorded in Utrecht. The applause, Paul Guinery told us, lasted eight minutes, and no wonder. The soprano Izabela Klosinska as Jael, the mezzo- soprano Carol Sparrow as the prophetess Deborah, and tenor Daniel Galvez- Vallejo as Sisera, whom Jael kills by hammering a tent-peg through his skull, spared nothing of themselves.

The Leipzig Opera Chorus, Netherlands Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Chmura delivered as if they had been working up to the occasion for weeks. It was the first time Debora e Jaele had been heard in this country, 75 years after Toscanini conducted the premiere. Yet there have been many productions in Italy, and in 1956 20 Italian critics voted it the best modern opera after Debussy's Pelleas and Berg's Wozzeck. Puccini came way down their list, in eighth place. Pizzetti hadn't much time for him either, dismissing the likes of La boheme as "little dramas of commonplace souls". Opera, he said, should concern itself with the great, timeless themes of antiquity, and represent "life in action and movement" though, heaven knows, there's plenty of both in Puccini.

The leading British expert on pre-war Italian music, John Waterhouse, suggested that the most audible influence on Debora e Jaele was Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. (Curiously enough, Pizzetti's compatriot and contemporary, Respighi, was also influenced by Russian music.) But to my ears the style of vocal writing seemed closer to Debussy's, though the warring passions of the story and ebullience of the Italian language dictated much more demonstrative expression. And the orchestral contribution, driving forwards without any apparent joins, was full of colour and variety, far from the grey monotony which Pizzetti has been accused of.

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