No Shining Path

Alberto Fujimori, October 1998, credit Wikimedia Commons

No Shining Path

Bill Hartley, on the Peruvian pagaille

Some countries get the heads of state they definitely don’t deserve. Worse still, they get them in rapid succession. A good example of this would be Peru, whose recent history is littered with former presidents who carry the taint of scandal.

The first of note whose reputation extends beyond the confines of his country is Alberto Fujimori. Courtesy of the Foreign Office he is, incidentally, a holder of the Grand Cross of the Distinguished Order of St. Michael & St. George. He has also been a member or leader of an impressive array of political parties, among which are the right wing ‘Let’s Go Neighbour’ whose ideology was described as ‘Fujimorism’: a catch all term it seems, designed to cover authoritarianism with a dash of fascism. Then came ‘Yes Fulfil’ and the rather more mundane ‘New People’s Party’. A total of eight so far in the course of his career.

As the name suggests, Fujimori is of Japanese descent, an academic and something of a technocrat. In 1992 during his first presidential term and facing opposition from the legislature, Fujimori carried out what is known in the trade as a ‘self coup’. This allowed him to assume all judicial and legislative powers by dissolving congress. What followed was his ‘Green Plan’ which involved the genocide of impoverished and indigenous Peruvians. In the best South American tradition the economy was overseen by the military; self coups having their limitations.

It has been suggested that the de facto leader of the country at this time was the long standing head of the country’s National Intelligence Service, who rejoices in the name of Vladimiro Lenin Ilich Montesinos Torres. Montesinos was said to have had a long standing relationship with the CIA. His career would stretch credulity if it were included in a work of fiction. Currently, like his alleged protégé, he is serving a lengthy prison sentence.

Fujimori’s neo liberal policies (liberal unless you were in the wrong category) attracted the support of wealthy Peruvians and international institutions. He went on to secure victory in the presidential elections of 1995 and 2000. Subsequently, facing accusations of corruption and human rights violations, he went into exile in Japan. He was extradited and convicted of murder, kidnapping and embezzlement, which in 2009 led to a sentence of 25 years imprisonment. Although various other convictions followed, Fujimori was fortunate in that according to Peruvian law, all sentences must be served concurrently. Not that actually serving a sentence, in the generally accepted definition of the term, is something which necessarily troubles Peruvian ex presidents. Fujimori was pardoned by President Pablo Kuczynski in 2017. The gesture may have had something to do with his gratitude towards Fujimori’s son Kenji, who as a congressman helped Kuczynski survive an impeachment vote. Kenji was able to squeeze this in before congress suspended him for alleged crimes of influence peddling and bribery. Kuczynski, a graduate of Exeter College Oxford, assumed office in 2016 having defeated Keiko Fujimori, the ex president’s daughter. A year later congress began impeachment proceedings after he was accused of lying about payments from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company whose activities have been deeply interwoven with Peruvian politicians. Although this failed a further attempt was made, this time alleging acts of vote buying and in 2018 he resigned. In 2019 Kuczynski was arrested on charges of money laundering.

Fujimori’s pardon proved to be only a temporary reprieve since it was revoked by the Supreme Court and he was imprisoned once more in 2019. Another short lived pardon followed and here it gets rather confusing. Despite having been out of politics for some time, Fujimuri regularly features in the Peruvian national daily El Comercio. One of his most recent appearances was on February 1st of this year. The former president is currently serving his sentence under a form of house arrest. He attempted to have this lifted so as to be able to travel to Japan for medical treatment. A judge refused permission and he has been advised to renew his application in nine months. Given that he is now aged 85 time is not on his side.

Stories about political corruption are a staple of El Comercio. For example, the January 31st edition carried a story about the Anti Corruption Squad visiting the home of Carlos Revilla Loayza, a government official between 2018 and 2021, during the presidency of Martin Vizcarra. (See below) One of the allegations against him is that he had been moving sums totalling up to $100,000,000 around in suitcases. Judging by the photograph accompanying the story, Loayza’s pet bulldog was no more pleased than his master to be receiving the visitors. Pages four and five of the paper carried a handy guide to who else was involved in the ex president’s web of corruption.

Fujimori was succeeded by Alejandro Toledo who held the presidency from 2001-2006. An indigenous Peruvian of humble origins, he was founder of the Possible Peru party. Although there were positive aspects to his administration, scandal began to grow, with allegations of corruption made against his inner circle. After he left office Toledo settled in the United States and appeared to be developing a reputation as an elder statesman and sought after lecturer on the college circuit. Then in 2019 he was arrested following an extradition request from the Peruvian foreign ministry and last year he was finally returned. Behind the extradition request was the name of the above mentioned construction company. Toledo is alleged to have received millions of dollars in bribes from Odebrecht. He claims that the allegations against him are politically motivated.  True enough in a way, since according to the New York Times ex presidents are beginning to stack up in Lima’s prison.

Odebrecht’s web of corruption has run through various South and Central American countries. In Peru a number of provincial officials together with ex presidents have been implicated. The corruption dates back more than thirty years and much of it involves a major construction project, the ‘Rutas de Lima’. The name of the company appears regularly in the pages of El Comercio. Politicians promoting an attachment to clean government when seeking the presidency have found that their connections to Odebrecht, whilst occupying more junior positions, has come back to haunt them.

Investigations into the activities of Peruvian presidents may drag on for years without any conclusion. An exception to this was Alan Garcia (1949-2019). First elected president in 1985 his was an administration best remembered for hyperinflation and terrorism. Unsurprisingly he lost the next election to Fujimori and then fled the country, since the army was said to be looking for him. He was granted asylum in Columbia, then following the fall of his successor returned and won the 2006 election. Garcia finally left office in 201. Allegations of corruption centred on payments from Odebrecht arose and in 2019 the police arrived at his home with an arrest warrant. Garcia asked for an opportunity to telephone his lawyer and went into a bedroom. Subsequently a shot was heard. It turned out that he had attempted to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head, though this wasn’t immediately successful. With some understatement, Peru’s Minister of Health told the media that he ‘was in a very serious condition’. Garcia died three hours later.

Skipping over the presidency of former army colonel Ollanta Humala (2011-16) who is also implicated in the Odebrecht scandal, takes us to Martin Vizcarra who was in office from 2018 to 2020.Although Vizcarra has no British honours he does possess the Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry, awarded by Portugal. This may date back to the time when there were high hopes he would be the anti corruption president. He first ran in the 2016 general election for one of two vice presidential positions alongside Pablo Kuczynski (see above) on his ironically named Peruvians for Change ticket. Then in 2018 he was sworn in as president following Kuczynski’s resignation. This gave him the opportunity to promote reforms against corruption.

It wasn’t long before Vizcarra got into conflict with the legislature. A year after being sworn in he triggered a constitutional crisis by dissolving congress. This backfired since in the subsequent 2020 elections, congress once again became opposition led. In September of that year congress opened impeachment proceedings against him on the rather vague grounds of ‘moral incapacity’. This didn’t receive enough votes but at a second attempt in 2020 they succeeded. It is said that the impeachment proceedings were orchestrated from his jail cell by ex president Humala, where he is serving a 19 year sentence. In March of this year the Andina News Agency reported that the Attorney General’s office had seized documents from Vizcarra’s home. This relates to an investigation into procurement processes dating back to his time as Minister of Transport.

Vizcarra appears to have a circle of close friends from his time as governor of the city of Moquegua. El Comercio published a lengthy story on 1st February into corruption which is alleged to date back to this time. Illustrating the story is a photograph of Vizcarra seated alongside Hugo Misad, one of the suspects. Not pictured unfortunately, was another former functionary from this period in Vizcarra’s career, the fabulously named Stalin Zeballos. Presumably he is not a relative.

This list of Peruvian ex presidents is by no means exhaustive. Several more have followed since Vizcarra left office and special mention ought perhaps to be made for Manuel Merino, who having succeeded Vizcarra, lasted for only five days before being driven from office due to widespread protests. The depressing thing about these scandals is the effect it must have on Peruvian democracy. Little wonder if the average voter loses faith in the prospect of the country ever acquiring honest politicians at any level.

William Hartley is a Social Historian

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Can of Worms

Gustave Doré, Confusion of Tongues, credit Wikipedia

Can of Worms

Dr A Kneen on extremism 

Who wants to be labelled an ‘extremist’? There can be adverse social, professional, and financial consequences for those so labelled. A person deemed an ‘extremist’ could even be referred to the government’s Prevent Programme[1]. Although generally considered something to be avoided, it is often unclear exactly what is meant by the term. However, the government has released a new definition of the term ‘extremism’[2] Extremism, we are told, is the promotion or advancement of an ideology[footnote 3] based on violence, hatred or intolerance[footnote 4], that aims to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms[footnote 5] of others (1); or (2) undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy[footnote 6] and democratic rights[footnote 7]; or intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).

The types of behaviour listed below are indicative of the kind of promotion or advancement which may be relevant to the definition and are an important guide to its application. The context below goes on to list 3 behaviours that could constitute ‘extremism’. The first listed aim of extremism covers: ‘Behaviour against a group, or members of it, that seeks to negate or destroy their rights to live equally under the law and free of fear, threat, violence, and discrimination.’ The second aim includes ‘undermining…liberal democracy’ and the third aim is ‘enabling the spread of extremism’. Further context is then provided, including the statement that:

The lawful exercise of a person’s rights (including freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of association, or the right to engage in lawful debate, protest or campaign for a change in the law) is not extremism. Simply holding a belief, regardless of its substance, is rightly protected under law. However, the advancement of extremist ideologies and the social harms they create are of concern, and government must seek to limit their reach, whilst protecting the space for free expression and debate.

Of course, many of the terms used in this definition are themselves problematic and could be the subject of much debate.

Using the terms and phrases in their normal sense, ‘The threat from extremism’, as the government avers, has been steadily growing for many years.’ Indeed. it was almost exactly 4 years ago (23rd March 2020) that the government ordered a ‘lock down’ of the country. Fundamental rights and freedoms of others were ‘negated and destroyed’. Freedom of association was severely curtailed as people were told to stay at home. If they had to leave home, they were told to stay 6 feet apart from others. Even in their own homes, the police could break in, and did, if they suspected people were associating with each other in an ‘unpermitted’ manner (unless it was the government holding parties). Protestors and those campaigning for a change in the law were attacked and arrested by the police. Matters that could be considered as ‘democratic rights’ were removed as people were subjected to various tyrannical policies, including mandates for an insufficiently tested, and now known to be potentially harmful, ‘vaccine’.[3] Extreme intolerance was shown towards those who did not comply with ‘lockdown’ rules. There was intense censorship of those who challenged aspects of the rationale on which the ‘lockdown’ was based.

There are two main ways in which the term ‘liberal’ is currently used. In the classical sense of the term, it is maintained that freedom and individual rights are important, and government is to be limited. In the progressive sense, there is an emphasis on civil liberties, ‘minority rights’ and social justice – often with the associated promotion of various issues (such a LGBTQ, etc.). The actions of the government in the past 4 years do not qualify as ‘liberal’ under either of these perspectives, quite the contrary. In fact, the government exercised immense power over people in a tyrannical abuse of civil liberties and freedoms.

The first aim of extremists, listed in the new definition, is to negate or destroy fundamental rights and freedoms. It entails behaviour against a group, or members of it, that seeks to negate or destroy their rights to live equally under the law and free of fear, threat, violence, and discrimination. Since most religions hold various tenets that consider certain behaviours as inherently unequal to others: inequality and/or discrimination would be inherent. In this sense, some religions are arguably ‘extreme’ and incompatible with ‘liberalism’. However, this then presents a contradiction in relation to the civil liberties of such religious people to themselves live equally and without discrimination.

The second aim listed states that ‘extremist’ behaviour includes attempts to ‘undermine […] the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights’. As noted above, if attempts to undermine a person’s democratic rights is extremism, then this definition could qualify the government as extremist – due to the manner in which such a definition could infringe upon various matters that are usually considered as ‘democratic rights’, including free speech, religious freedom, and the like. It is also unclear exactly how far the interpretation of ‘undermining’ could go. Would all dissent be considered ‘extremist’? Would the pointing out of  flaws in our ‘liberal parliamentary democracy’ be considered as ‘extremism’? Would exposés of various matters as we have seen in the past (e.g. the 2009 Parliamentary ‘expenses scandal’[4], the 1994 Parliamentary ‘cash for questions scandal’, various sex scandals, etc.) be held to undermine parliamentary democracy and thereby constitute ‘extremism’?

Also included within the second aim of ‘extremism’ is: Establishing parallel governance structures which, whether or not they have formal legal underpinning, seek to supersede the lawful powers of existing institutions of state. There are already established religious bodies in this country that pass judgments on various matters, including civil disputes, etc. There are also many other groups that potentially could fall under this definition such as those associated with home-schooling groups. Are these to all now be considered as ‘extremist’? Or, again, is this to be selectively applied in a discriminatory manner (providing further internal inconsistency)?

The new definition of ‘extremism’ notes ‘the pervasiveness of extremist ideologies in the aftermath’ of the October the 7th incident. Since this date, thousands of Palestinians have been killed in what South Africa, at the Hague International Court of Justice[5], referred to as genocide. The government have made various statements condemning protestors during this period – protestors exercising what are their ‘democratic rights in a ‘liberal democracy’. The government also supports the actions taken by Israel against Hamas – and, if the reports of what is actually happening in Gaza are true, the rights of the Palestinians are not being protected.

There are allegations that protestors against Israel are making some people feel uncomfortable and/or scared. However, this would not provide valid justification for removal of the freedoms and civil liberties of protestors. The current criminal law provides adequate protection for anyone subjected to threats, violence, etc. The current idea of banning anything that someone does not like is not applied evenly. There is the phenomenon of ‘cry-bullying’ that must always be considered in such matters, whereby someone claims victimhood as a means to bully/control others. This phenomenon is frequently encountered in daily life when people ring the police purporting to be victims, as a means to exert control over others.

Of course, the promotion of fear to further social and political objectives was pursued during the past 4 years by the media and the government – and the definition of terrorism is the causation of fear amongst people to further such social and political aims. For example, a document from SAGE (The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) explicitly discusses use of the media to, amongst other things, increase the sense of personal threat[6]:  to wit, ‘Use media to increase sense of personal threat’. Members of SPI-B are reported as regretting this tactic. Scientists on a committee that encouraged the use of fear to control people’s behaviour during the Covid pandemic have admitted that its work was “unethical” and “totalitarian”.[7]

If ‘undermining’ the government is now viewed as ‘extremism’, how can what is normally understood as ‘liberal democracy’ continue to function? Are we still allowed to criticise the government without being referred to the Prevent Programme as potential terrorists? Would it be considered as ‘undermining’ to ask if the government itself does not fall under the new definition of being an extremist, if not a terrorist, organisation?

Dr Alice Kneen was awarded a Bye-Fellowship at Magdalene College, Cambridge. She is the author of Multiculturalism – What Does it Mean?

ENDNOTES

[1] E.g. see: Prevent | Counter Terrorism Policing

No Smoke Without Fire Part 5: PREVENTing a War on Domestic Terror in the United Kingdom? | UKColumn

The Prevent Programme is mentioned on the government definition page qv

[2] See: New definition of extremism (2024) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[3] All this extremist suppression was presented as being justified by the threat of a flu – a flu with a mortality rate stated by Dr Anthony Fauci to be comparable to that of a bad seasonal flu and that was allegedly caused by a supposed virus that has still to be isolated.
[4] Exclusive: the real story of the MPs’ expenses scandal (telegraph.co.uk)

[5] www.aljazeera.com

[6]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/882722/25-options-for-increasing-adherence-to-social-distancing-measures-22032020.pdf

[7] Telegraph 14th May 2021:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/14/scientists-admit-totalitarian-use-fear-control-behaviour-covid/

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Endnotes, April 2024

Vyšehrad, bazilika, credit Wikimedia Commons

Endnotes, April 2024

In this edition: Smetana from Prague – and some new discoveries. Reviewed by Stuart Millson.

New from the Pentatone label comes a brilliantly-recorded version of Bedrich Smetana’s six-movement symphonic cycle, Ma VlastMy Country. A product of the romantic, Bohemian, folklore-inspired nationalism of the mid-1870s, the work is mainly known for its Vltava section, a depiction of the river that runs through what is now the Czech Republic. Yet for all the broad-themed radiance of this much-played excerpt (Radio 3’s Essential Classics, and Classic FM regularly feature it) – and it is one of the great orchestral highlights of the repertoire – Ma Vlast, in its other five parts, exhibits writing of enormous dramatic intensity, clarity and appealing harmony, every bit as compelling as Vltava.

In the hands of that master of detail, Semyon Bychkov, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (their musical bloodstream flowing from Smetana’s time) have set down on disc one of the truly great versions of this fascinating cycle of self-contained, yet belonging-to-one-another tone-poems. In the airy acoustic of the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum in Prague, the orchestral playing emerges as if heralding a dream-sequence – the opening movement entitled Vyšehrad (The High Castle), offering a soft, bardic introduction played by solo harp. The listener is at once beckoned into a saga of heroes, long gone, in a landscape of legend. A Bohemian Camelot, ‘The High Castle’ looks out over the centuries, with the composer weaving a mediaeval musical tapestry, in which the flames of the fire in the banqueting hall seem to crackle into life once again.

The Czech Philharmonic seem to be more than simply ‘playing’ this music: instead, in the rich brew of orchestral sound, we begin to see a body of artists attending to a sacred ritual – divining, honouring, restoring a symphonic vision of their land. Smetana emerges from Ma Vlast as a composer, half in the Nature-light of Dvorak, but also partly in the forests of Wagnerian-type myth, or the shadows and uneasy tales associated later in the century with Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied. The tense string tremolo, for example, at the conclusion of the third tone-poem, Sarka, also lends a Brucknerian slant to the score – Sarka being a strange, disturbing tale of female beauty, infatuation and, at its conclusion, the night-time slaying of sleeping soldiers by warrior-maidens.

Following the success of their Mahler cycle (the Fourth Symphony, in particular, reaching rare heights of radiance), the Czech Philharmonic’s unveiling of their new Ma Vlast shows one of our great European orchestras at the peak of its power; a warmer glow to the performance style, perhaps, than in their old Eastern bloc days on the Supraphon label, yet still with that razor-sharp, sometimes ‘clipped’ phrasing. And in those parts of the score which require the deployment of the full, rounded power of a heavyweight orchestra, Bychkov achieves a pacing, tempered speed and ‘measure’ that truly enables the listener to savour Smetana’s heady and descriptive tableaux.

One tiny criticism, and this may seem unnecessarily pedantic, as it relates to the physical size and thus, the sound of the orchestra’s cymbals. On the one or two occasions in London when your reviewer obtained a ticket for the auditorium at which the Czechs are playing, my attention was drawn to the smaller-in-diameter size of this orchestra’s cymbals. These percussion instruments produce a sharp, metallic sound, but one that lacked the deeper ‘clash’ of the larger versions used by London orchestras. My feeling was that the Vltava movement, in its spectacular moments of triumph and grandeur, could have been intensified by a bigger percussion sound. A small point, granted, when one considers the thought and emotion that have gone into this fine reading of a favourite score.

A piece which might work well with Ma Vlast is a new overture by the contemporary composer, Nimrod Borenstein – the ballet overture, entitled Prayer to the Moon. With the lyricism of Dvorak, a sense of the wonder reminiscent of the opening of Mahler’s First Symphony, and a poignant, bittersweet ending evoking a Prokofiev Violin Concerto, Borenstein’s piece can be enjoyed on YouTube, performed by the Vratsa Symphony Orchestra of Bulgaria, conducted by the composer.

And from the United States to our QR Inbox (a recording not yet available to a wider audience) has come an audio file of a performance by the Buffalo Philharmonic conducted by JoAnn Falletta of Randall Svane’s Oboe Concerto, with soloist, Henry Ward. Romanticism in modern music is very much alive in the works of Randall Svane, and in this c. 20-minute piece, one almost feels that a new Vaughan Williams or Gerald Finzi has emerged into the world. We hope that a commercial recording will soon appear in the catalogues.

Finally, the rhythms of Latin America (and a fair measure, too, of sunshine-and-shadow South American Impressionism) are brought to life in an album of piano music, performed by Jose Navarro-Silberstein. The 20th-century Argentinian composer, Ginastera, opens the collection – his suite of dances offering a range of moods from an Allegro rustico, to a dreamy atmosphere (in the fourth movement) – Calmo e poetico. Lovers of the sunny Brazilian classicism of Villa-Lobos will luxuriate in the colours of the composer’s Ciclo brasileiro, written between 1936 and 37 – all captured by the impressive sound-engineering of the Genuin record label.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review.

CD details; Smetana, Ma Vlast, Czech Philharmonic/Bychkov, Pentatone, PTC 5187 203.
Vibrant Rhythms – Ginastera, Villa Lobos et al, Genuin classics, GEN 23845.

 

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Death in Venice (2)

Björn Andrésen, dans Mort à Venise, credit Wikipedia

Death in Venice (2)

From Welsh National Opera, Thursday 7th March 2024 at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Reviewed by David Truslove.

The adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten and Myfanwy Piper is one of those near flawless reimaginings. Barely comprising any dialogue or exhibiting anything resembling a plot, Mann fashions a tale of discovery, obsession, and a plea for artistic renewal. Above all, its ‘contagion’ of desire points to questions about the creative stimulus behind any great artist, be it author or composer. In that sense Death in Venice is unsettling for its confessional and autobiographical basis. Restless for new experiences and distant scenes, the aging writer Gustav von Aschenbach travels to Venice soon becoming infatuated with the young boy Tadzio, whose family are holidaying at the Grand Hotel des Bains. As the city (itself a glorious symbol of decay) falls prey to infection and disease, an out-of-control Aschenbach is flooded with desire and fatally lingers, eventually succumbing to fate.

For this new production of Britten’s operatic farewell, Welsh National Opera has a gifted director in Olivia Fuchs. Her use of aerialists from the Cardiff-based ensemble NoFit State is an inspired and ingenious substitute for the ballet dancers who originally graced the stage for the 1973 premiere at Aldeburgh. Her imaginatively conceived staging and designs combine to produce something very special. Leading the virtuosic acrobatics is Antony César as Tadzio (a non- singing role), whose Polish family all perform gymnastic miracles on stage and in the air, a conceit neatly underlining the boy’s inaccessibility physically and emotionally. One creative touch is the heart-rending denouement in the sand wrestling scene between Tadzio and his friend Jaschiu; two bodies entwined and departing with a kiss viewed with despair by an unfulfilled and fast-fading Aschenbach.

Nicola Turner’s mainly monochrome designs are a perfect fit in their suggestive capacity for place and situation. Elegantly attired hotel guests in white neatly capture the Edwardian setting, while black outlines the Venetians. A bare stage is periodically furnished with a barber’s chair, a deck chair, a suitcase, each indicative of a specific scene or location, while video projections (courtesy of Sam Sharples) convey lapping water on the rear wall, at several points cleverly suggesting motion when crossing the lagoon from a stationary Gondolier standing behind Aschenbach. The whole is magnificently lit by Robbie Butler, whereby shifts of movement and mood are cannily accentuated.

Marc le Brocq is commanding as the urbane Aschenbach, a role originally written for Peter Pears. By the end of Act One when he whispers to himself ‘I love you’, one can sense the inner torment as he wrestles with his self-knowledge, now recognising the strength of his inclinations for the beautiful vision that is Tadzio whose face inhabits a ‘pure and godlike serenity’. Brocq’s ringing tenor cuts effortlessly through Britten’s secco recitatives, the awkward 12 note chromaticisms no obstacle to his delivery. It’s a role he inhabits with great distinction, traversing a curve from buttoned up suavity to emotional disintegration. Leading Aschenbach inevitably towards his fate is the baritone Roderick Williams, playing no fewer than seven characters, each individually conceived and all with a sinister undercurrent. If, at times, his voice needs greater projection his pirouetting fop, fawning hotel manager, flamboyant Leader of the Players, scarlet-suited Dionysius and camp, over solicitous hairdresser are all finely drawn characterisations, helped in no small measure by deft work with poppers and Velcro.

As the other-worldly Apollo, a gold-lamé clad Alexander Chance catches the eye and ear, his lustrous countertenor soaring over the Olympian games. It’s a scene often considered too long, but here rapt singing and fluid acrobatics sustain interest if not the emotional temperature. Minor roles, taken by members of the WNO chorus are all well-handled, notably Gareth Brynmore John as the Clerk and Peter Van Hulle as the hotel porter. In the pit, Leo Hussain directs the WNO orchestra with absolute assurance, conspicuously illuminating Britten’s vivid score with its numerous cameo roles and gamelan-style percussion.

In conclusion, this production is a superb team effort, its melding of multifarious talent and multi-layered discourse crafted with meticulous care. Welsh National Opera is to be congratulated.

Performances continue on tour until 11th May.

Editorial endnote. An earlier production of Death in Venice at Royal Opera  was reviewed by Leslie Jones. See QR, ‘Silence is Golden’, November 24, 2019

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Endnotes, March 2024

Cruiser HMS Sheffield, credit Wikipedia

Endnotes, March 2024

In this edition: George Lloyd’s Arctic symphony, plus Nicola LeFanu’s path across the dunes, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Recently issued by Lyrita is a definitive collection of symphonic music by one of our country’s many overlooked composers, the Cornishman George Lloyd ~ a figure who, after war service in the Royal Navy on HMS Trinidad, sought mental refuge and spiritual self-repair in the peace of Switzerland; and when back in England, in market gardening and mushroom farming but with the early mornings of his horticultural day devoted to composing.

The Symphonies 1-6 and the Agincourt-themed overture, John Socman (written for the 1951 Festival of Britain) are presented on Lyrita’s handsome box set, with not only detailed programme notes by Paul Conway and a fascinating assessment of Lloyd’s life and times ~ childhood in St. Ives, to inter-war years questing for recognition ~ but a photo-album, too, of the composer with fellow musicians, friends and supportive family. Lloyd’s father wrote the libretto for the opera John Socman; and the composer’s marriage very likely saved his sanity, following the trauma of war spent in the Arctic convoys.

From the box set, the hugely impressive, splendidly designed musical architecture that is the lyrical, hour long Symphony No. 4, written at the war’s end and subtitled, ‘The Arctic’, stands out. How poorly served for choice we are by our orchestras today. Lloyd’s Fourth Symphony is a masterpiece but is rarely played or broadcast in this country. It fell to New York State’s Albany Symphony Orchestra to perform the piece under the composer’s baton (in a rich, wide acoustic) ~ although to be fair to our own native musicians, the bulk of the box set displays the no less virtuosic playing of Manchester’s BBC Philharmonic.

Noble horn and brass statements give a proud stoicism to this extensive musical drama; not an obvious programmatic description of frozen wastes, perhaps, but a complicated, personal response, in terms of heightened feelings, to extraordinary surroundings and times. A first movement of Sibelius like stored up energy gives way to moments of sustained lyricism. In the carefree, slow movement there are echoes of the American composer, Roy Harris, evoking a vision of black pine forests and rivers of snow water. But nothing prepares you for the 20 minute long final movement. With perfect, sure footing in its initial sequences that make complete ‘conversational’ sense (no idle note spinning here), a quietly confident, march theme sweeps up through the orchestra ~ bringing out playing of an infectious, even hypnotic spirit. The marching theme reappears in the movement, leading to a great, optimistic conclusion ~ and causing the listener to ask: could this really be the work of a man so recently scarred by war? Evidently George Lloyd possessed great inner strength.

From the metier label comes music of more astringent proportions: short, Webern-like pieces for small chamber ensemble (in this recording, the players of Gemini) written by Nicola LeFanu ~ a figure with a great artistic pedigree, her mother being the composer Dame Elizabeth Maconchy.

The Same Day Dawns (1974) opens the CD, and consists of 17 haunting sections which puts one in mind of Britten (or Warlock’s The Curlew): a chilly wind on a lonely coast, and faltering woodwind sounds just audible through reedbeds, with lines for the vocalist, such as:
‘The winter night’s river wind was so cold
that the sanderlings were crying…’

A similar, not quite tonal atmosphere is to be found in the intense 2020 ‘scena’, The Moth Ghost, setting James Harpur’s words ~ the sea-goddess mourning her son, Achilles:
‘And now you cannot see the seaweed on the sand/the path above the dunes where you would stroll/the cave that came to life with flitting wings.’

Herewith, music that lives in its own fleeting dimension, and which is superbly recorded in glowing detail.

CD details: George Lloyd, Symphonies 1-6, Lyrita, SRCD.2417 

Nicola LeFanu, The path above the dunes/Gemini, with soprano, Clare Barbier Serrano. metier, mex 77112.

Stuart Millson is Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

 

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Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor, 7 February 2024

According to a Mr Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (the Daily Mail, December 30, 2023), western liberal capitalist countries are best because they “produce the most danceable pop songs,” the “biggest blockbuster movies,” and “the best night clubs”; oh, and superlatively free and democratically effectual elections. What most serious analysts of current affairs cannot dispute, however, is the comparative geo-strategic decline of the West, aggravated by economic turmoil, transnational terrorism and trafficking, Chinese and Islamist resurgence, plus an unprecedented sub-Saharan birth-rate. Concerning the latter, according to Steve Jones (writing in The Language of the Genes) “A third of the world’s population may be of African origin by 2050”. 

Hitherto dogged by what Correlli Barnet calls “overstretch coupled with underperformance”, our overcrowded island is currently a sitting-duck yet countenances WMD conflict against Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, an “Evil Axis” whose area jointly exceeds 10 million square miles. The political class has allowed British defences to become weak and inefficient, highlighted by the Royal Navy’s recent sea-lane action in a situation nevertheless provocative of regional explosion. Meanwhile, the Chief of the General Staff calls for war-footing “mobilisation” of the “whole nation”.  But “Britain’s collapsing birth rate could lose us the next war”, warns Michael Deacon (Daily Telegraph, 27 January 2024). The ONS expects a 6 million population increase by 2036, almost entirely from immigration. Just how many of these polyethnic incomers would willingly join a perilous offensive on behalf of Bibi Netanyahu, Volodymyr Zelensky, or Lai Ching-te?

Our military vulnerability is compounded by the insidious combination of internal social decline and a dominant ideology that impedes its reversal. Data on crime and behaviour, health and addiction, education and childcare, transport and communication, banking services, tax-aided charities, council funds, asylum management and landscape conservation, show that the sheer numbers of people requiring cure, care, coaching or control are beginning to overwhelm the available personnel competent adequately to provide the facilities required. Declining national intelligence is doubtless another key factor, for which environmental causes are proposed, although genetics cannot be excluded. Regarded as a primary cause of the decline and collapse of several great empires, differential birth-rates between creative elites and citizens of limited abilities remain a legitimate concern of thoughtful, albeit sometimes execrated, observers.

“The burdens of civilised life grow heavier in each generation,” observed W. R. Inge, back in 1927. Science and technology can solve many problems, including some they previously helped to create. But they require enough scientists and engineers for innovation and implementation, and wise leadership. Can we escape the present grip of inertia and incompetence, complacency and corruption, and rescue civilization from woke induced decadence or nuclear annihilation?

From David Ashton

         

  

 

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Tough Crowd

Pictured here is a scene still from the 1916 film “Intolerance.” Credit Wikipedia

Tough Crowd

Tough Crowd: How I Made and Lost a Career in Comedy, Graham Linehan, Eye Books, hb, 288 pp, £19.99, reviewed by Edward Dutton

In the summer of 2000, queuing up outside the Almeida Theatre in London to attend Celebration by Harold Pinter, your reviewer noticed, standing behind him, Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, the writers of Father Ted, the most beloved sitcom on TV, and the creators of Big Train. The latter brilliantly played with conventions and did something new with a tired, decades-old format – the sketch show. Celebration itself was a comedy which explored darker themes, such as incest, and which tried, albeit in a clunking way, to highlight the poignancy of life beneath a veneer of humour.

There is nothing “clunking,” however, about Tough Crowd, the autobiography of the creator of two of the best sitcoms ever, to wit, The IT Crowd and Father Ted. A superb read, it examines the vicissitudes of his career as a comedy writer. If you want celebrity gossip, this is present in abundance. For example, it transpires that Dermot Morgan, who played Father Ted, was a prima donna who took calls about other jobs during rehearsals and who assumed that any ban on mobile phones didn’t apply to him. Such is the mind-set of the narcissistic thespian.

The standard stories you would expect are all here: how Father Ted was conceived, how to write a successful joke, how jokes are tested, refined, and thought of. And there are also childhood recollections and revelations. Linehan never went to university but began his career writing about film and contemporary music for the Irish press. He subsequently turned to comedy sketches, submitting them to shows such as Alas Smith and Jones.

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Endnotes, February 2024

The Valkyrie’s Vigil, by Edward Robert Hughes, credit Wikipedia

Endnotes, February 2024

Wagner from Denmark, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) by Richard Wagner is a music-drama comprising three Acts and forms the second part of the composer’s epoch-making operatic achievement, Der Ring Des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungs). Set in the Teutonic forests in a time out of mind, the opera was first produced at Munich in the June of 1870, but as music-writer J. Walker McSpadden notes in Opera Synopses, it, did not receive a performance to the composer’s exacting standards until the August of 1876, when it came to the stage of Wagner’s own Bayreuth opera-house. And as McSpadden also observes:

“In order to understand the purport of “Die Walküre” as related to the “Ring” a certain amount of narrative is necessary which is not represented on the stage. Wotan, foreseeing the doom of the gods because they are pledged to respect the power of the magic ring, endeavours to protect Walhalla by creating a band of Valkyrie or warrior-maidens; their duty is to convey on their winged steeds the bodies of the noblest warriors, slain upon the field of battle, to the abode of the gods, where the warriors will live again, a mighty race to defend Walhalla. Upon the earth, also, Wotan has begotten two children of his own, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who grow up in ignorance of each other.”

To provide us with a revelatory reading of this opera, the STERLING CD label has issued a three-disc box set of a 1987 live recording, given at Den Jyske Opera, Aarhus; the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Francesco Cristofoli, with ~ centre-stage ~ the distinguished soprano, Laila Andersson-Palme as the Valkyrie, Brunnhilde.

The curtain goes up and a storm is raging through the German forests ~ the hut of Hunding (sung by Aage Haugland, bass) providing shelter to Siegmund (Sven-Olof Eliasson) who, we learn, is a foe of Hunding. Sieglinde (Lisbeth Balslev), Hunding’s wife, ushers Siegmund in from the gale, but as they converse, a (fatal) attraction begins to envelope them, despite their true relationship ~ unknown to each other… of brother and sister.

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Defiance

 

Charlotte Salomon, Kristallnacht, credit Wikimedia Commons

Defiance

Resisters; How Ordinary Jews Fought Persecution in Hitler’s Germany, Wolf Gruner, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2023, h.b., 212 pp, reviewed by Leslie Jones

In a letter to Arnold Zweig, dated December 15, 1935, the German satirist Kurt Tucholsky concluded, “Judaism is defeated, as much defeated as it deserves”. Judaism, according to Tucholsky, “just does not fight”. This notion of Jewish passivity, of the Nazis leading the Jews like “sheep to the slaughter”, was subsequently endorsed by other commentators. Historian Raul Hilberg, in The Destruction of the European Jews (1963), bemoaned their “almost complete lack of resistance”. Saul Friedländer agreed, upping the ante by suggesting that the Final Solution was facilitated by “the willingness of the victims to follow orders”. More recently, in KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps (2015), Nikolaus Wachsmann averred that “defiance is rare in totalitarian regimes”.

Wolf Gruner, Professor of History at the University of California, once subscribed to this conception of “the passivity of the persecuted”. But in 1998, Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer pointedly asked him, “where are the victims in your narrative?”, setting in motion an eventual change of perspective. Professor Gruner came to realise that, hitherto, studies of Jewish resistance had concentrated on organised, armed resistance at the group level, generally ignoring a multiplicity of individual acts of resistance. Yet concerning the latter, police reports, Gestapo files, prison cases, judgements from the Special Courts in numerous German cities contained a wealth of evidence hidden in plain sight. Survivor testimonies in the form of video interviews held at the Visual History Archive, University of California, and perpetrator files in the Yad Vashem archive and US Holocaust Memorial Museum archives have enhanced this picture.

The author’s thesis is neatly elaborated by a series of biographical studies which identify the different historic forms taken by “the forgotten resistance of German and Austrian Jews”. Daisy Gronowski is the subject of chapter five, entitled ‘Acting in physical self-defense’. Born in Königsberg, East Prussia in 1921, her father Bruno was a merchant and manufacturer and the proud possessor of the Iron Cross. In the mid-1930’s, Daisy practised martial arts under the auspices of Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist group. In 1938, she enrolled in a Jewish agricultural camp in Urfeld, to prepare for eventual emigration to Israel or Latin America. During Kristallnacht (the November pogrom) the camp was attacked by anti-Semites. Daisy recalls that she stabbed and head-butted the gang leader, thereby refuting the Nazi libel of the “weak Jew’.

Those who protested in writing against the Nazi regime risked torture, incarceration in a concentration camp, prosecution under the Treacherous Attacks Law of 1934 and/or arraignment for treason before the People’s Court in Berlin. Witness the fate of members of the White Rose group. Ditto that of Benno Neuberger, the subject of chapter four. Born in Munich in 1871, his father Max was a real estate broker. After Kristallnacht, Benno Neuberger was incarcerated in Dachau concentration camp. The persecution of Jews instigated by the mayor of Munich Dr Karl Fiehler and Hitler’s eliminationist rhetoric incensed Neuberger. The proverbial last straw was the 1941 decree requiring all Jews over six to wear the “yellow star”. During 1941 and 1942, he mailed anonymous postcards replete with abusive comments about Hitler, such as “The eternal mass murderer”. Arrested by the Gestapo in March 1942, he was sentenced to death by the People’s Court and duly guillotined. His family were required to foot the bill for his execution.

In The German-Jewish Soldiers of the First World War in History and Memory, Tim Grady identifies two contrasting narratives. “All Jews are shirkers” was a recurrent Nazi motif. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had accused the Jews of avoiding front line service. But there was also a ‘national conservative’ take on the role of the Jews in the war. According to President Hindenburg, anyone “good enough to fight and to die for Germany” deserved to be commemorated on war memorials. In July 1934 he insisted that a new war medal should be issued to all veterans, regardless of race or religion. But after Hindenburg’s death in August 1934, all German-Jewish war veterans were dismissed from public service and excluded from German citizenship (see History Today, June 2013, review by Leslie Jones of The German-Jewish Soldiers…).

In chapter two, ‘Verbal Protest Against the Persecution’, Professor Gruner highlights the shameful treatment of German-Jewish patriots, such as Henriette Schäfer, after 1933. Born in 1882, the daughter of a Jewish shoemaker, she had worked in an ammunition factory during the First World War. The allegation that German Jews were traitors incensed her as did the harassment by the municipal authorities of the large Jewish community in Frankfurt where she had lived with her husband since 1909. On the morning of November 10 1938, the day after the Nazi leadership instigated the nationwide pogrom called Kristallnacht, she told her landlord that the members of the government were “…black-guards, scamps, and criminals” and that “Hitler is the biggest bandit”. In November 1939, she was sentenced to six months in prison and was deported to Theresienstadt in February 1945. She survived, thanks to the vagaries of war.

“Toute notre dignité consiste…en la pensée”. “Travaillons donc à bien penser” (Blaise Pascal, Pensées). We commend, accordingly, Professor Gruner’s endeavours.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of Quarterly Review

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Labyrinthine Linguistics

Theseus & the Minotaur, Attic black-figure lekythos, 500-475 BC, credit Wikipedia

 Labyrinthine Linguistics

Stanley E. Porter, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Baker Academic. 2023. Pp.i-xxi, 1-969. $70.00, reviewed by Darrell Sutton

This important book is the result of close reading and scrupulous study. The approach is linguistic, guided by the rules of Formal Systemic Functional Grammar, which is ‘a system-based functional linguistic model that connects socially grounded meanings with instances of language usage… defining and examining various theoretical strata that connect context to expression’ (p.3). Stanley Porter (henceforth SP) maintains, however, that The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text is not a full-blown linguistic commentary. It is.

Terminology.
To begin with, readers may well struggle with SP’s language. He provides functional explanations, definitions, and classifications to aid the reader: monosemy ‘is the principle, or perhaps the orientation or predisposition, of seeing singular rather than multiple meanings for any linguistic element’ (p.4); grammatical monosemy posits that ‘grammatical features also have abstract semantics that are modulated or constrained by contextual features, including grammatical environments’ (p.5). He does find many common descriptions to be outmoded, saying ‘there are some who still use the terminology of VSO (verb, subject, object)… but this assumes a grammatically explicit subject… which many Greek clauses simply do not formally express (they have an implied subject with verbal morphology)’ (p.7). On the Greek verb, SP’s views are governed by his notions regarding ‘aspect’. As he maintains, ‘the Greek verb is aspectual, with the aspects realized by the so-called tense forms. The aspect system functions within the ideational metafunction. He sees three forms of aspects: (1) perfective, realized by aorist tense for a process seen to be complete, (2) imperfective: realized by represent and imperfect tenses for a process seen to be progressive, and (3) stative: realized by perfect and pluperfect tenses for a process seen to represent a state of affairs (p.9). He concludes this section professing ‘I do not believe that interlingual translation is a particularly reliable or even useful indicator of understanding of a language’ (p.17).

INTRODUCTION
The author accepts Pauline authorship of the Pastoral epistles and does not find multiplicity in speech or in theological themes to be an impediment to reaching that conclusion. As he says, ‘diversity in language is not a necessary or sufficient indicator of difference in authorship but may instead reflect only a difference in what is often called register or genre’ (p.21). Some critical views provoke his derision. SP ridicules Raymond Brown’s assertion that few academics believe Paul wrote the Pastorals: ‘his estimate that 80-90 percent of scholars hold this skeptical view shows that Brown probably needed to extend his circle of scholarly friends’ (p.22,fn.2). Through thirty pages, beginning on page 44, SP outlines Authentic Pauline Authorship, looking into linguistic differences and statistical studies.

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