Music: Classical Review: Radio-age magic
BBC World Service International Recital
Friday 27 February 1998
St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol
One of the many pleasures of these live World Service broadcasts is the classic, radio-age excitement of the link-up. The audience and performers sit in self-conscious silence while Tannoy speakers broadcast the close of the previous programme, in this case a round-up of Spanish football results, sundry rugby injuries and international sporting incidents. Then, with appropriate gravitas, the presenter, Deborah Mackenzie, accepts the radio-wave baton from who knows where, and introduces the programme. The conspiracy of silence ends, and suddenly we all exist once again, as if waking from someone else's Long Wave dream in Jakarta.
The performers for this final concert in a series of four were the Smith Quartet. They opened with Graham Fitkin's Servant, a taut, edgy piece of minimalism played with a suitably dry intonation. Adiemus Variations, by Karl Jenkins, followed and without the voices and world-music effects of the best-selling album, it sounded like a fairly straightforward quartet, and not at all bad, once again rather drily played. However, with the minutes ticking away in Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Asias (Tuesday repeats for South Asia only, I'm afraid), I felt that the far-flung listeners deserved something a bit more visceral. They got it with a wonderful performance of the rugged old minimalist Terry Riley's Good Medicine, in which the strings aspired to the condition of Appalachian fiddle-music and the movements flew by in a blur of breezy accents and dizzying refrains, as if someone had at last opened the door and let some authentic life into the hall.
That done, it was back to the Empire, in a hand-over worthy of Two-Way Family Favourites, and our special treat was to hear the encore of Samuel Barber's Adagio all by ourselves, the rest of the world switched off in a turn of the Bakelite knob from the omniscient controller. A free concert, with the afternoon sun streaming through the church windows, and the rest of the world listening to us cough, was enough to make us all give thanks to the World Service. Long may it prosper.
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