Archive for October 2007

Still Lost in Translation

October 9, 2007


Great news — the new book is out!  Hilarious (and Charlie Croker has included lots of the ones I sent him.  Thanks!!).  Rush out and buy it now (£10 from bookshops, currently only £6 from Amazon), or at least put it on your Christmas ‘wanted’ list. 

Here’s the link to his website: Lost in Translation


You are Begged to not Throw in the W.C 

Absorbent Hygienic And Rolls Of toilet paper

You use the Pouches to Disposition In the
special Container. 

Thanks! ! ! ! ! 

– (Hotel bathroom, Positano, Italy)


October 7, 2007

Devoted readers of FOUND Magazine’s Find of the Day will have discovered that CONTRABASSOON is an anagram of BRONCO SONATAS.  Whoopee!  (Thanks, ViVi).  Here’s a link to the relevant Comments page… (and no, that ISN’T me in the picture.  Ah, the perils of fame…)

Bronco Sonatas… great title for a piece!  Yes, I’ll definitely write it one day…

London Festival of Chamber Music

October 6, 2007

To my shame, I had never heard of the London Festival of Chamber Music, and this is their 13th year.  Thanks to a tip-off (thanks, Tony and Rosie) I found myself trundling off to deepest North Dulwich last night (05 Oct) – and what a treat it was.

I was expecting the usual draughty church hall in the back of beyond, but St Faith’s Community Hall, SE24, turns out to be a handsome brick and wood building (I would guess Edwardian), broad, squat, not large, but with a high wooden barn roof and balconies, giving it the feel of a tiny Snape Maltings.  Not a big audience, but packed and very enthusiastic.  Atmosphere and acoustic bright, warm and very welcoming.

The core of the Festival is the English String Quartet, leader Diana Cummings (behind whom it has been my pleasure and privilege to sit in various orchestras).  Their usual viola, Luciano Iorio, was unable to play because of a shoulder injury, but his ‘sub’ was the excellent Stephen Tees, and Mr Iorio instead made a charming and genial host, introducing players and works.

The evening kicked off with Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet;  Andrew Sparling has a charming manner, always with a shy smile even seemingly when he plays, and he is exceptional in that he is happy to get right out of the way when the clarinet part is only an accompaniment.  The performance radiated a tremendous love of the music, charmingly involved yet restrained.  Maybe the ritenuto upbeat to the Menuetto – every time! – was a bit overdone, but I won’t complain.

Then the Divertissement for Bassoon and String Quintet by Jean Françaix (good heavens, another bassoon solo!), in which the Quartet was joined by Stacey Watton on double bass, who was enjoying himself hugely – a terrifically musical player with a great sense of drama and fun, but very discreet with it.  Bassoonist was Daniel Jemison, who has already figured in these pages.  French music for bassoon is notoriously very difficult, tending to the very fast, very quiet and very high:  to perform it on a German bassoon sometimes feels a bit like the legendary dog walking on its hind legs.  That was slightly my reaction to the only other time I have heard this piece – in a broadcast of a recording by Robin O’Neill, only a few weeks ago – but Daniel Jemison banished such thoughts with his effortless, witty, dazzlingly accurate and warmly communicative performance.  He has a particularly winning vibrato, I thought, sparingly applied.  The secret of his lovely tone was revealed when he told me he plays on a Soulsby… ha!  Our exclusive club grows ever more distinguished.

After the interval, (more…)


October 4, 2007

And so, again, to Cadogan Hall (03 October), for the English Chamber Orchestra’s first concert of the new season, a 150th birthday tribute to Sir Edward Elgar.

But first, an introductory talk by Humphrey Burton, who gave us an entertaining and informative biography of Elgar, enlivened with reminiscences from his own involvement with the famous Ken Russell TV film.  H showed his immense professionalism by speaking for half an hour without notes (‘and without drawing breath’, as my brother Tony said).  Humphrey was then joined by Paul Watkins to discuss the Elgar Cello Concerto – also very illuminating.

Jolly good, H (he ain’t heavy…).

Then eventually back into the by now crowded hall – the audience apparently consisting, to a large extent, of members of the Burton family and bassoonists (including me, my niece Rosie, her chum [hi, Iona!!] and at least six others that we knew of).

First on the concert programme was the Introduction and Allegro for Strings.  Now this was ideally suited to the Hall (cf. my thoughts on large orchestras in here), and to me it made terrific sense as a piece of chamber music, with the lovely and characterful solo quartet (Stephanie Gonley, Annabelle Meare, Jonathan Barritt, Caroline Dale) handing the music back and forth to each other and the other players as though they were all part of one intimate chamber ensemble.  (Maybe, as Tony pointed out, that wasn’t how Elgar imagined it, having written it to show off the massed strings of the LSO in 1905;  but this approach did it for me).  Here as in the rest of the programme, American conductor Andrew Litton showed himself a fine, sympathetic but no-nonsense Elgarian.

Then came the Nursery Suite, which is fairly fluffy stuff if the truth be told, but always touching, and Elgar’s orchestration is an object lesson and a perennial delight.  William Bennett turned ‘The Serious Doll’ into a way-over-the-top flute concerto, but no one seemed to mind.  Nice violin solos from Stephanie Gonley in the last movement, too.

Julie PriceAfter the interval, (more…)

Oh, Wagner! Wagner!

October 2, 2007

(…said in tones of exasperation, not reverence…) – how can you do this to me?  How dare you take over whole chunks of my life like this? 

I remember in the early 1970s sitting though a whole cycle of The Ring at Covent Garden, spread over a couple of weeks, and for all that time it was really impossible to listen to any other music or even to think about anything else.  ‘Real’ life faded into insignificance, and was put on hold for the duration.  Well, now that I am involved from the other direction, with rehearsals and performances of The Ring at Covent Garden, I find the same thing is still true – this time spread over a couple of months…

So – what is it about Wagner?  Was he a ‘great’ composer?  I don’t know.  Certainly there is tremendous and moving and impressive (and loud) music in his operas;  and Götterdämmerung (the fourth and last opera in the Ring cycle) has some of the most weirdly forward-looking, avant-garde music imaginable (more so, to my mind, than the ‘ground-breaking’ harmonies of Tristan und Isolde).  It also has some clunkily terrible, BAD music.  

Was he, as many claim, a great psychologist of human nature?  Hmmm.  I’d much rather have Richard Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal:  show me anything in Wagner to match their heartbreaking, penetrating insight into the character of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger?  Wotan in The Ring??  I don’t think so).  Or in any case I’d rather have Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte – all the psychological insight, delivered with tenderness, humour and the lightest of touches.  Or any of Janáček’s operas…  surely there is more humanity, and sense of man’s place in the universe, in Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen than in the whole of The Ring (and you could fit Janacek’s opera, complete, about three times into just one act of Götterdämmerung). 

(And don’t even think about how many Haydn symphonies you could fit into that time!   (more…)