Handel rules at Desert Island Discs!
So Radio 4’s hugely popular show, Desert Island Discs, granted their listeners’ secret wish, asking them to choose their eight ultimate records. They presented the eight most popular votes in a special show which was dominated by popular classics, including, at no. 7 (and no surprise really), Handel’s Messiah. So it was pipped by Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Beethoven, but the piece has also been THE top classical choice for the celebrity guests, actors Timothy Spall and Imelda Staunton among them.
So what are your 8 DID? And more importantly, what are MINE? (well, really, I thought you’d never ask…)
1) ‘Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus’ from Quartet for the End of Time by Olivier Messaien: heartbreakingly beautiful, tensely-harmonied, this made me weep when I heard a theremin and piano version!
2) Blue Valentine by Tom Waits: one of my favourite songs, for its contrast of grizzly-bear voice and glowing guitar, and for its masterful lyrics.
3) Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered sung by Ella Fitzgerald: Ella’s voice is the best of the 20th century, and the lyrics pithily brilliant.
4) Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Leadbelly, sung by Nirvana: A simple blues is turned into a vulnerable, violent version in Nirvana’s live MTV Unplugged cover; Kurt Cobain rips his voice to bits on the last phrase and I shiver uncontrollably…
5) Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams: a heart-swelling number with a sense of English history and landscape at its centre.
6) The Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright: I had to choose something by Rufus, whose turn of phrase (both melodic and lyrical) makes him the successor to the jazz standard writers of the first half of the 20th century. This has a twist in the tale, an unusual subject and a lovely horn solo in the middle.
7) Just As The Tide Was Rolling by Eliza Carthy: I need to have a traditional folk song in there, and this has a gorgeous melancholy about it.
8) String Quartet no. 8 in Csharp minor 1st movement by Shostakovich: Its dark historical context makes the astonishing harmonic writing all the more powerful. I’ll try and sneak in the 2nd movement too…
So, lots of brilliant words and wondrously-varied voices, a strange preference for string music and distinct lack of Handel. Whoops!