Friday, February 6, 2015

Desert Island Discs...

Every week Peter and I listen to Desert Island Discs (DID), hosted by Kirsty Young since 2006. DIDs is the BBC's longest running radio program, with over 3000 episodes. It has been pulsing over the airwaves of the BBC Home Service into people's wirelesses since 1942. These days we subscribe to the podcast.

Each week a distinguished guest "castaway" is invited to share the eight pieces of music they would take with them if they were to be stranded on a desert island, along with one book and one luxury item. The host interviews them about their life in between them explaining their choices of music. They usually stipulate which recording of the pieces they would choose as well.

After listening to so many guests over the years I thought it would be fun to share my choices should I be one of Kirsty's castaways. It was excruciatingly hard to narrow down my music choices to only eight pieces, so I have used pieces to represent a particular artist or composer I like, and for the most part songs which have moved me to tears (I'll have to cope without my favourite 80s pop songs for now). So here we go Kirsty, thank you for having me on the show!

Track 1
Sergei Rachmaninoff: The Adagio Sostenuto from his Piano concerto No. 2.

This song has been a favourite of mine since Peter introduced me to the Noel Coward film Brief Encounter. The film stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard as two ill-fated lovers who meet on a railway platform.  Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto figures heavily throughout the film (at Coward's own insistence), with the second movement (the adagio sostenuto) forming the main tragic love theme. Most people will recognize the melody, which was cribbed by Eric Carmen in the 80s to create his hit All by myself.

Track 2
George Frederick Handel: The Allergro from Concerto Grosso No. 12 in B Minor.
Performed by Christopher Hogwood and Orchestra.

My earliest forray into classical music started with the baroque genius of Handel. I chose this song because it was one of the first Handel pieces I heard as a child. I love the rich complexity of the sound, the drama of the minor key and the fervour with which it is played by Hogwood and his orchestra, on period instruments. I really enjoy Handel's larger orchestral and choral works, such as his coronation anthems (e.g. Zadok the priest) and Messiah, but alas there is not enough room for them on the island this time.

Track 3
Henry Purcell:  The Passacaglia from Act IV of King Arthur (How happy the lover).
Sung by: Veronique Gens, Hanna Bayodi, Beatrice Jarrige, Cyril Auvity, Joseph Cornwall et al.

In contrast to Handel, I only really became familiar with Purcell (pronounced Persil not Per-cell) in my 30s, which is odd given he was the greatest British composer of his age and Handel's fore-runner at court. It is tragic to think he died aged 35. I heard this piece performed for the first time in David Starkey's documentary "Music and the Monarchy". The play of the male and female voices around each other is entrancing, and on searching for it I came across this rather fine performance on youtube. 

Track 4
Edward Elgar, Variation IX (Adagio) from Enigma Variations
Performed by the LSO or BBC Proms Orchestra.

I can remember watching the Last night of the Proms with my grandparents as a child. I loved all the patriotic British classics, such as Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches, and his Enigma variations. Elgar's Nimrod from his Enigma variations has an elegant poise, with the notes placed just so. The variations were written over the winter of 1888-89. They are described as being based around the personalities of and events involving 14 of Elgar's closest friends. Nimrod takes its name from the old testament patriarch, described as a mighty hunter and was dedicated to Elgar's friend and publisher Augustus Jaeger (Jaeger being German for Hunter). It has been used as the soundtrack for a nation in many ways and has remained popular without loosing its gravitas. 

Track 5
Giacomo Puccini: Quano Men Vo from La Boheme
Sung by Kiri Te Kanawa.

This would be my favourite operatic aria. La Boheme was the first opera I saw live. This piece, also known as Musetta's waltz, is not sung by the leading character Mimi, but by Musetta one of her bohemian friends. She sings it to make her lover Marcello jealous. I love the soaring melody, and the naughtiness of the words, which translate thus...

"When I walk alone in the street, People stop and stare at me. 
Everyone looks at my beauty, looks at me from head to foot. 
And then I relish the sly yearning which escapes from their eyes, 
and which is able to perceive my most hidden beauties. 
And the scent of desire is all around me, and it makes me happy!"

Track 6
Fannie Rose Howie: Hine E Hine
Sung by Will Martin (Will Martin recording not available on Youtube)

Hine E Hine is a traditional Maori lullaby, which used to be played on TV in NZ at the conclusion of the broadcast day (When I was a child there were only two channels, which finished broadcasting at midnight). In the Will Martin performance his warm tenor voice carries the melody with an atmospheric orchestral arrangement supporting him in a spine tingling harmony. A choir provides the depth to the performance, and his recording includes a tear jerking key change. I chose this song to remind me of beautiful NZ whilst I am stranded on a sandy beach. I'm afraid the best version I can find is an instrumental brass band version, but do consider listening to a sample of the Will Martin performance on Amazon or iTunes.

Track 7
Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart: (If they asked me) I could write a book.
Sung by Dawn Upshaw.

This is a popular jazz standard, from the 1957 film Pal Joey starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, and Kim Novak. Other songs from this movie which have stood the test of time include Bewitched, bothered and bewildered; My funny valentine; and the Lady is a tramp. Dawn Upshaw's performance is tender and nuanced and not jazzy like other versions are. The lyrics are well written and speak to me:

"And the simple secret of the plot,
is just to tell them that I love you a lot, 
so the world discovers as my book ends, 
how to make two lovers of friends".

Track 8
Don Black: Only An Ocean Away.
Sung by Sarah Brightman

I had to choose one Sarah Brightman song. I like the melodies and arrangements she sings. She has a flair for drama and is personally very involved with the arrangement of the songs. Despite being maligned by operatic cognoscenti for her parvenu foray into the world of opera from more accessible popular music, I enjoy her. I love the crossover genre, another good example of this style being Malena Ernman's La Voix.

This song is from the first Sarah Brightman album I owned, Eden, which I actually bought on DVD when I bought my first stereo. I watched it til the wheels fell off the player quite literally. This song meant a lot to me at the time I discovered it, which was when Peter was living in London and I in NZ. We now find ourselves apart again, with me in Australia for work with an ocean between us, just as there would be if I were stranded on a desert island. So Kirsty, my final track would be this one.

"There's an ocean between us,
you know where to find me.
Just reach out and touch me,
I'll feel you in my heart.
More than a life time,
It seems like forever,
But I'll always remember,
You're only an ocean away"

Castaways are given the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, and are allowed to choose one additional book. I would choose A Pinch of Posh, by Laurence Llewelyn Bowen. The reason I would choose this book is the shear absurdity of taking any sort of etiquette guide to a desert island tickles me, as does the satirical wit with which this tongue in cheek guide is written. I always chuckle when I read it, and with a copy of The Bible and The Works of Shakespeare I don't think I would want to bring any additional serious reading material with me.

Castaways are also allowed to choose one luxury item (which Kirsty must approve). I thought about this one carefully and vacillated between an espresso machine and a cocktail bar several times before settling on an ipad so that I could keep in touch with you dear readers.

As the program ends listeners are bade farewell with the familiar serene theme tune By the Sleepy Lagoon, by Eric Coates. This is a beautifully soporific tune, which I often put on if I am having difficulty falling asleep...

So, those would be my choices if I were invited on DIDs. You can listen to all the Desert Island Discs Castaways here.

1 comment:

  1. I love DID and listen to it whenever I'm able to (on-line, of course). I too would have a difficult time picking my favorite tunes that would span classical, pop and jazz. I'm off to give the question some serious thought now. Thanks for sharing yours (love Handel and Purcell too!).


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