Kate Chisholm

Pursuit of excellence | 16 July 2011

Amid all the chattering about hacking it’s a relief to discover that some things don’t change and yet still, surprisingly in these tainted times, proffer sterling quality.

Amid all the chattering about hacking it’s a relief to discover that some things don’t change and yet still, surprisingly in these tainted times, proffer sterling quality.

Amid all the chattering about hacking it’s a relief to discover that some things don’t change and yet still, surprisingly in these tainted times, proffer sterling quality. Saturday mornings on Radio 3, for instance, which this week gave us a deconstructed version of Bizet’s L’Arlésienne (or The Girl from Arles) on CD Review. I’ve been listening to this staple of the Third’s diet since long before CDs were even invented. Yet on Saturday somehow I heard it afresh and realised just how much my musical education has depended on this single 45-minute programme. We used to listen to it as children stuck in the back on long car journeys when the concentration of listening at a stretch with no interruptions made me realise for the first time that the same music could sound so entirely different when played by other musicians; it’s all about interpretation.

It also alerted me to the fact that even the ‘greats’ can get it wrong sometimes — a useful lesson, which can be applied equally well to books and paintings. Never be afraid to criticise, seemed to be the motto of the programme, provided, of course, the criticism is in the pursuit of excellence, of a ‘truthful’ performance.

This week David Nice was looking at various recordings of the incidental music that Bizet composed in 1872 for a dramatised version of a novel by Alphonse Daudet. The flighty girl from Arles never actually appears on stage but her baleful influence resonates throughout as the young farmer Frédéri goes crazy for love of her. The play has been long forgotten, but Bizet’s music was so successful he turned it into a couple of orchestral suites which have become classics of the radio repertoire.

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