Classic FM versus Radio 3

I lived away from the UK for ten years, and had a slow internet connection so couldn’t stream radio. So coming back here last summer, I had no idea what the different UK radio stations were or what you could listen to on them. I love listening to classical music, so I’ve settled on a combination of Classic FM and Radio 3, mostly. And I can’t decide on one or the other permanently.

Radio 3 yesterday had a wonderful Monteverdi segment on their Early Music programme, but later in the evening driving home, there was a modern orchestral piece with the sort of random ‘boings’ and ‘plinks’ that genuinely made me think something was wrong with my car. At least with Classic FM I get a well-rounded musical education, with plenty of big classics combined with new discoveries, but nothing too ‘out there’. Today Radio 3 is on, and I was gradually losing the will to live with over an hour of medieval Irish harp, but couldn’t be bothered to retune my (primitive) radio. But luckily it has just redeemed itself with some Bach choral music. Classic FM’s obsession with movie soundtracks, on the other hand, is soul destroying, and you also have to have the type of brain which can deliberately switch off to its own thoughts while the adverts are on (which I do).

Last night when I switched from the Radio 3 Engine-Failure Concerto in H to Classic FM, though, some of the damage Classic FM does to my brain was revealed. A piano piece came on which seemed to be a tune I knew as a Hayley Westenra song, a combination of the unbearably sad with the unbearably cutesy. I started thinking: this is just the kind of thing that annoys me. Somebody has arranged a Hayley Westenra song for piano, and while it’s pretty, I might switch to Radio 3 for some ‘real’ classical music.

Then the announcer explained what the piece had been…. Ravel’s ‘Pavane pour une infante defunte’. I’m officially embarrassed at not recognising a ‘real’ piece of music. Can I be allowed to blame Hayley Westenra for cutifying Ravel to such an extent that the original piece is tainted by association?

But Classic FM is a world where someone with a vaguely poor musical culture can encounter Hayley Westenra first, and Ravel second. I obviously need to improve my real music sensing capabilities.

Finally, my biggest confession in this vein is Rachmaninov’s piano concerto no. 2. I was horrified to listen to this for the first time last year and discover that a middle section (the Adagio sostenuto, Wikipedia tells me) is ‘All by myself’ by Eric Carmen. I can’t say how depressed that makes me. I hope Eric Carmen donates all his profits to some kind of musical charity. He could try Nordoff Robbins or Youth Music, if he is listening, which he is not.

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