Proms 33 – Thea Musgrave/Brahms (BBC iPlayer until mid-September)
Musgrave’s Phoenix Rising remains an exhilarating experience, by turns smart, comforting and challenging. It offers a potent compliment to Brahms’ equally dramatic Ein Deutsches Requiem. Golda Schultz and Johan Reuter bring solo brilliance to the clarity of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Richard Farnes.
Love in a Cold Climate (Radio 4Extra – BBC iPlayer till late-September)
A repeat of the 1999 adaptation. As ever with Radio 4 Classics, it’s well done, though the final thirty minutes feels a little rushed when compared to the novel. Mitford’s source material is simultaneously of its time – all the talk of ‘coming out’ and ‘we’ve had enough of Fanny’ may sound hilarious to childish modern ears – and yet Mitford’s handling of themes of sex, relationships and homosexuality is surprisingly modern.
Michael Hughes – Country (2018)
Hughes’s second novel takes the Iliad and places it in the Irish borderlands of 1996. Immensely readable, especially if, like me, you’ve always had a fascinating with the Troubles. It’s at its strongest when exploring the moods and motivations of its characters, including its Irish Achilles and British Hector. I struggled with the speechifying of the main characters which felt stagey and lacking in an ear for human patterns of speech. Pompous speeches work in Ancient Greek drama, which Hughes carefully mimics; less so in modern novels.
Agatha Christie – Parker Pyne Investigates (1931)
One of Christie’s minor ‘tecs. Parker Pyne is a fat, bald statistician who uses probability to make assessments about his clients. Something of a time capsule – of questionable social attitudes to women, class and ethnicity – its episodic short stories make for an easy and quick read. Fun, not least for reminding the reader that Christie’s first use of the title, ‘Death on the Nile’ was in this volume.
Carolyn Sampson & Joseph Middleton – Fleurs (2015)
This is one heck of a themed album: Sampson’s powerful voice (noted for her skill with baroque material) takes on flower-based songs from across the classical repertoire. There’s Faure, Britten, Schumann and Debussy, among many others. Middleton’s accompaniment is sensitive and discreet and allows Sampson the space to show her range. A striking solo debut, after years singing with Ex Cathedra.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Wapentak (2018)
I’ve never understood why prog-pop geniuses Sweet Billy Pilgrim haven’t become huge. Their previous album, Motorcade Amnesiacs (2015), should have been their breakthrough, but it was not to be. Now they’ve paired back, to a duo. What’s lost is the expansive rock-outs and wild arrangements; what’s gained is focus and intimacy. ‘The Briar Bell’ – a folky and dreamy ballad – is just one of the many outstanding tracks on this album.
Sam Sweeney – The Unfinished Violin (Forthcoming)
Sam Sweeney will be no stranger to fans of Bellowhead. This forthcoming release builds on 2016’s ‘Made In The Great War’ album, his collaboration with Hugh Lupton. On this release, he uses the violin featured in ‘Made In The Great War’ to play folk tunes associated with that conflict. Verity Sharp played the deeply affecting ‘The Battle of the Somme’ on Late Junction this week; some of the other tracks are available to listen to via iTunes. This promises to be very special.