Friday, 4 December 2009
By 'giants' I'm not referring to Petroc Trelawny's three guests on the Radio 3 Music Matters book review tomorrow, who are: one legendary giant, the trenchant and delightful Robert Tear; one VIP, Elaine Padmore, Director of Opera at the Royal Opera, who was naturalness itself; and I/me. I allude rather to the three very thick books we've all been reading over the past few weeks, and their subjects are giants too: Serge Diaghilev, the socially aware organisation we now know as English National Opera, and Benjamin Britten, not quite a giant at the time under consideration but a very innocent teenager and a young man waking up to the possibilities of life, and the means of expressing them.
As this is essentially a plug to advise you to listen - and whatever the excellent Music Matters team leave in or take it, we really did have a marvellous time - I'd better not pre-empt what we thought of the books, which was mostly remarkably consonant. The most beautiful to look at is Sjeng Scheijen's study of the ultimate impresario.
What I wouldn't give to have Profile Books enveloping my words with their high production values. Not that I have any complaints against Yale on that score, but I was certainly impressed with their senior publicity officer Valentina Zanca's role in Sjeng's introductory Pushkin House lecture a month or so back. The illustrations - portrait drawings to back up the main text, a fine central spread of colour designs for the Ballets Russes - complement handsome typeface, quality paper...who wants e-books, a subject briefly raised in the studio, when handling a tome is as pleasurable as this?
Faber, having passed on their thorough presentation of the Britten letters, do the diaries well enough; though Britten was no Prokofiev when it came to literary style or penetrating character study. I'd still hold up Anthony Phillips's annotation and indexing of the Prokofiev diaries (a real feather in Faber's cap) as the ideal. Can't wait for his Volume Three, which must be imminent.
What's to add to our programme comments on this one? It's a diligent record, a little antiseptic at times, like the Britten diaries none too well indexed. I didn't get a chance this morning to praise the contributions of the leading players interviewed by Susie Gilbert. Sir Charles Mackerras is pithy good value, as always; so are Pountney and Elder. But we need to hear more from the singers - and believe me, you will, when I get round to writing about Linda Esther Gray's astounding autobiography, my undisputed musical book of the year, in a blog post or two's time.