Endnotes, May 2024

Abbildung des Bruckner, Anton [1824-1896], Künstlerpostkartea, credit Wikipedia

Endnotes, May 2024

In this edition: Bruckner, restored; Welsh composers honoured in Cardiff; reviewed by Stuart Millson

Siva Oke, Director of the SOMM record label, turns her attention once again to the world of vintage recordings. Like an art gallery restorer, she and her handpicked team of audio specialists have ‘cleaned up’ a number of Old Masters, casting a dazzling new light on recordings of years gone by. With Elgar performances of the past under their belt, SOMM ~ in this, the 200th anniversary year of the birth of Anton Bruckner ~ now turn their attention to that great Austrian symphonist (and organist), whose works have been described as ‘cathedrals in sound’. Spanning a thirty-year period (1944 to 1974) the first volume of ‘Bruckner from the Archives’ (a two-CD set) brings to the attention of Brucknerians and audiophiles, performances by the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz, under Kurt Voss (in the occasionally Schumann-like Symphony in F Minor from 1863); and the WDR Symphony Orchestra conducted by the American, Dean Dixon, to name but two of the partnerships. The latter artists appear in a superb, utterly clear-sounding heavyweight 1959 recording of Bruckner’s too-infrequently-played Overture in G Minor ~ a piece which bears a resemblance to Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas, yet with all the intensity and Gothic tension that are Bruckner’s hallmarks.

The audio restoration and remastering of these fine interpretations is the work of the American academic, teacher, technician, and musician (he is an oboist of considerable standing) Lani Spahr, who has steered a course toward the overlooked and unknown parts of the composer’s output. Bruckner’s March in D Minor and his Three Pieces for Orchestra are revelations, and proof that the composer could produce works of succinct proportions, and not just the epic symphonies which fill the second-half programmes of Europe’s major orchestras, or, in the case of the Eighth Symphony, the whole evening. The 1940s’ sound ~ taken from original records ~ gives the Three Pieces a curious spine-tingling intimacy. And at the end of the F Minor Symphony taped in 1974, it was affecting to hear the warm applause of an audience.

Disc Two of the set brings us another rare gem, Bruckner’s String Quartet, and a 1950s’ performance from the airwaves, this time capturing Eugen Jochum and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Symphony No1. Jochum went on in later years to record a Bruckner cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon, even coming to London toward the closing years of his career to record Elgar’s Enigma Variations with the LSO ~ so followers and admirers of this conductor will relish SOMM’s discovery of this particular Bruckner broadcast.

We look forward to the next editions in the series; to further uplifting recordings and to new light, shed on a composer we thought we knew.

 *        *        *

Standing in, on 11th April, for its indisposed Conductor-Laureate, the Japanese maestro and British music enthusiast Tadaaki Otaka, conductor Jac Van Steen led the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall in an absorbing programme of 20th-century Welsh orchestral music, but culminating in a rendition of Elgar’s (1899) Enigma Variations. The strings of the BBC Welsh orchestra responded to the silvery tides flowing through Grace Williams’s Sea Sketches, a work inspired by the South Wales Gower coast and the confluence of the Bristol Channel and Atlantic. The composer (a pupil of Vaughan Williams) came close to capturing the great drama ~ and occasional flat calm ~ of the sea’s moods, as might be heard in Britten’s sea interludes from Peter Grimes. The Cambrian coast and country also provided the background for William Mathias, in his Harp Concerto ~ a work for smaller orchestral forces. Catrin Finch was the soloist in the concerto, which has often been seen as an airy, brooding, celestial work, but which, in many ways, actually creates a percussive effect ~ ‘packing a punch’ (Miss Finch’s words) and conjuring a sense of the blood red sunsets and ‘wild sky’ evoked by Welsh poet, R.S. Thomas ~ another of Mathias’s inspirations.

Scampering, darting woodwind at the opening of the piece create a feeling of fresh air ~ sea-air, birds on the wing, light falling on waves, or clouds suddenly blocking out, then opening the sky to gleaming sunshine. At one point a trumpet plays in the background, a straightforward motif (later taken up on strings) that hints, in its cadence, at a sense of distance and mystery. A celeste also shimmers: a complement to the harp, with a yearning pastoral oboe theme then rising from the embracing warmth of the understated orchestral sound. But a moving climax is reached in the first movement, with timpani and cymbals helping to build the excitement and power of this unusually constructed and orchestrated work. The timpani then return in the more austere orchestral landscape that is the second movement; a more disturbing night-music sequence ~ a sense for the listener of being lost in wild woodland, or in a distorted reality ~ or unreality. The finale danced to a happy, optimistic conclusion, through what seemed like Welsh village lanes ~ the sun on our backs; Mathias affirming life and Nature, the harp and Celeste hinting at that subliminal world of Celtic imagination.

For Elgar’s variations, dedicated by the composer ‘to my friends pictured within’, a much larger ensemble was, of course, required, and it might have been tempting for the orchestra to play this ‘war-horse’ as if on autopilot. Yet in their journey through Elgar’s social circle in late-Victorian Great Malvern, a real sense of occasion ~ of the shaping of real characters, of the composer’s life and times, was achieved. The Winifred Norbury variation (just before the famous Nimrod) evoked a touching watercolour of a quiet gentlewoman and her elegant home, a Britain that may have gone, but which at least lives on in music. And at the finale, Elgar’s self-portrait, we grasped again the real splendour of the composer’s style: confident, with an impetuous letting loose of emotion ~ the composer from the border lands between England and Wales deservedly climbing onto a plinth beside Brahms and Strauss.

CD details: Bruckner from the Archives, Vol. 1. SOMM Ariadne, 5025.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

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The Last Caravaggio

Caravaggio, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, credit wikipedia

The Last Caravaggio

Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, National Gallery Global, London, 2024, the catalogue of the exhibition The Last Caravaggio at the National Gallery, 18th April-21 July 2024, reviewed by Leslie Jones

According to Giovanni Pietro Bellori, one of Caravaggio’s three seventeenth century biographers, some of his younger, fellow artists considered him “the unique imitator of nature”. Yet more conservative commentators, including Bellori himself, disdained paintings of figures that were “so drastically unidealized”, as compared with the works of Raphael and Michelangelo.[i] Indeed, it was Caravaggio’s “extreme fidelity to the world around him” that was considered by some as “mechanical, uninformed and even unworthy”.[ii] John Ruskin, that Victorian arbiter of taste, made some scathing comments about the artist. Following a visit to the Louvre, on 8th September 1849, Ruskin wrote the following entry in his diary,

Kingliness and Holiness and Manliness and Thoughtfulness were never by words so hymned or so embodied or so enshrined as they have been by Titian and Angelico and Veronese – so never were Blasphemy and Cruelty and Horror and degradation and decrepitude of intellect – and all that has sunk or will sink Humanity to Hell – so written in words as they are stamped upon the canvases of Salvator and Jordaens and Caravaggio and modern France.

What was Ruskin’s beef? His ideal of art, as the diary entry suggests, was ultimately religious and moralistic, somewhat akin to JH Newman’s conception of education at its best. Ruskin described the beautiful in art as “a gift of God”.

In Dr Whitlum-Cooper’s expert opinion, the “discomfort” caused by Caravaggio’s influence on art “goes a long way to explaining why Caravaggio was largely forgotten in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”.[iii] Ruskin, for one, was doubtless offended by Caravaggio’s “sensual portrayals of young men, in conjunction with a lack of erotic female characters in his work” (see Caravaggio, in The Art Story). Likewise, by the “penetration of the Hun’s arrow”, in The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and the blood gushing from the wound, which had what the author calls “an unavoidably sexual connotation”. [iv] Effie Gray stated that the reason why Ruskin “did not make me his Wife” (i.e. why he failed to consummate the marriage) was “because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April (1848)”. Menstruation, or body odour, or pubic hair may have caused Ruskin’s disgust. Apropos Ruskin’s alleged paedophilia, perhaps what he “most valued in pre-pubescent girls was…the fact that they were not (yet) fully sexually developed” (see Caravaggio, The Art Story).

According to one school of thought, a bad person cannot be a good painter. And as Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones reminds us, Caravaggio was bibulous, irascible and prone to violence. He was regarded as “a streetfighter, a killer…but not an intellectual” (‘The Last Caravaggio review – a gripping and murderously dark finale’, 16 April). Jones emphasises the (projected?) fury of the rebuffed Hunnish king in The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula. Here, he concludes, is “a dumbfounding drama of rage, violence, death…”. Violence and death are recurrent themes in the artist’s late work, as in The Beheading of John the Baptist and Resurrection of Lazarus (see Jonathan Jones, ‘Who killed Caravaggio and why’, Guardian, 12 April). More evidence, for his detractors, of what Bellori called his lack of “invention, decorum, disegno”.

In 1876, the Academia in Venice allowed Ruskin to place Vittore Carpaccio’s Dream of St Ursula (1876) in a private room so that he could make a copy. In Carpaccio’s painting, an angel appears in a dream to tell the saint of her impending martyrdom but to assure her that she will be welcomed in heaven. It seems that Ruskin, now losing touch with reality, identified Saint Ursula with his former pupil Rose La Touche. Ruskin was convinced that Rose, who had died in 1875, was sending coded messages of consolation through the painting.[v]

We commend Dr Whitlum-Cooper’s splendid introduction to Carvaggio’s life and work.


[i] Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, The Last Caravaggio, p 13
[ii] Ibid., p 13
[iii] Ibid., p14
[iv] Ibid., p 27
[v]  See Leslie Jones, ‘Chiaroscuro – Ruskin in darkness and in light’, Quarterly Review, Spring 2012

Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of Quarterly Review

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“We must Educate our Masters”

‘Socrates Address’, Louis Joseph Lebrun, 1867, credit Wikipedia

“We must Educate our Masters”

By Duke Maskell

Whenever the word “standards” crops up in connection with education, it’s time to lose heart (or to emulate Goering). Only two things are going to be said: that standards ought to be raised and that such-and-such is the way to do it, by launching this initiative or putting in place that policy, and by some arrangement of block-and-tackle.

The trouble is that the standard of public discussion is now so abysmally low that standards have become widely unintelligible except in the form of those protected by the British Standards Institute and for which a certificate can be awarded. The word has become assimilated to quality control and audits. Standards—as now understood—are things to be specified “objectively”, measured and raised (or lowered) by choice. All governments have to do is will the end and provide the means—without it mattering what the character is either of the government that offers to perform the miracle or the people who are to benefit from it. And yet the best educated government can’t achieve more than the general level of culture permits and the worst can’t escape the limitations of its own character.

The way the word “standards” is commonly used in political discussion is itself a sign of those limitations and of their power to frustrate good intentions. The absurdity of governments undertaking to raise standards in religion or love or virtue is (let’s hope) self-evident. A politician who promised to deliver a higher standard of faith, hope or charity, would be announcing only that he didn’t know what faith, hope or charity were. It’s a sign of how deeply uneducated public discussion in this country has become that the same promise made in the case of education isn’t found absurd at all.

Only someone genuinely religious could ever affect the religious nature of anyone else. And only a government of men and women themselves educated could ever make any difference to the state of education in this or any other country. And no one who was genuinely educated could ever talk as glibly about levering up standards, delivering quality and all the rest of it, as our present politicians of all parties do.

Attempts by the uneducated to raise educational standards betray just how cripplingly low our standards are—not amongst those whose standards are lowest but amongst those whose are supposedly highest; and the same attempts make our standards lower still. What has the massive expansion of university education done but make us worse educated than we were 60 years ago?

Who could dream up the various bodies, which, over the years–from awareness that Higher Education has fallen below scratch–have been given the job of improving it. There was the Research Assessment Exercise (1986-2008)—which supposedly judged (on a scale of 1 to 5) and rewarded (with money) the quality of research in university departments but which actually did nothing much beyond counting, and rewarding, the number of pages produced … until it got replaced by the Research Excellence Framework (2008-) which does the same job but awards stars instead of numbers (none to four). Then there was (or, perhaps, still is) the Quality Assurance Agency (1997-), inspired by the Dearing Report, written by dunces for dunces.[1] The QAA used to bestow marks (out of 24) indifferently on, for instance, both university departments that try to educate their students in foreign languages and those from which students graduate without any idea of what makes the languages they have studied worth knowing. Its work may have been taken over by the Office for Students (2018-). Or, to go further back in time, only an uneducated people would have failed not to considered themselves  swindled by Ofsted’s 1993 report on “Standards and Quality” in A-level examinations. It doubtless cost a fortune to produce but said absolutely nothing.[2] No country whose standards were capable of being raised would ever have commissioned the Charter for Higher Education of 1993 or the Dearing Report of 1997. Or, if they had, would have burned them once they saw the results.

The most important qualification for any educational reformer is pessimism. What we most need is an educated understanding of education; and we will never get that from the DfE, REF, QAA or Ofsted. But there is no need to look back to Socrates or J. H. Newman, or Jane Austen.[3] Or to Dickens and D. H. Lawrence. But imagine trying to convince any Minister for Education or the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of that. It would be a task more like religious conversion than educational reform.

How to have high standards in a mass university

Only in a country where egalitarianism is rampant could anybody wonder whether expanding the university population seventeen-fold—from 3% in 1960 to about 50% now—must mean lowering standards. In any art (or sport or science), everyone wants to work with other people who are at least as good as (but perhaps not too much better than) himself. Everyone recognises that that’s the way to do his best and learn to do better. What’s the use of a boxer sparring with someone he can hit at will and who can’t hit him? If you’re a would-be actor with no sense of timing what’s the use of your rehearsing with the RSC. What’s the use of arguing with someone who needs furnishing with not just an argument but an understanding? In arts of every kind, the best calls to the best as strongly as, in procreation, youth calls to youth; and it’s the best that shows us what an art, of any kind, can amount to and what there might be to value in it.

The need for a sort of natural selection is felt just as strongly at the lowest level as at the highest. Boys playing football in school playgrounds form a pecking order and exclude the least able quite pitilessly. And the excluded, however disappointed, accept their fate without protest, as just and necessary. (Who, after all, wants to spoil the game?) The arts that people actually care about—that they show they care about in practice—are all frankly and unforgivingly elitist.

Which is how it is in any university worthy of the name. The defining activity in universities isn’t lecturing and being lectured at; it’s discussion and argument, a disciplined refinement of ordinary conversation. Students of, say, philosophy aren’t learning about philosophy, they’re learning to think philosophically, to do it; and they don’t learn that from a source, as information or a methodically coached skill. They learn in the company of others, in the to-and-fro of talk, by trial and error, and subject to the criticism, correction, confirmation of others, just as anyone acquires any other art. “Its art is the art of social life,” as Newman said. But let half the population into the room and what art is anyone going to acquire?

But not in the eyes of our political masters and the liberal establishment they are drawn from. For, uniquely, in the case of the academic arts, the laws of social life (and the school playground) are suspended. A seventeen-fold expansion of the university population needn’t mean lower standards, not when, as the Good Lord Dearing said, we can accompany it with a commitment to high ones. You just put in place, firstly, your national policy objective—to combine participation for all with high standards from top to bottom—and then your mechanisms for achieving it—a participation strategy, a progress monitoring mechanism and an achievement review provision, plus a Quality Assurance Agency with expert teams, benchmark information, a framework of qualifications and threshold standards.

But this is what should be done. Put the policy of the last 60 years into reverse. Close three quarters of the universities, get rid of all the fake subjects like ‘Business Studies’,’ Hospitality Science’ and ‘Aromatherapy’ (instead of the real ones like Philosophy and Music), reduce the number of students to one in 10 (or 20), reinstate grants—and save £bns every year. And save a bit more  by getting rid of all the standard-policing agencies like the REF and QAA, which are only thought necessary because the universities are no longer universities.

Who assures the quality of the Quality Assurance Agency?

Universities, naturally, dislike being inspected; and, if they do badly in an inspection, as, inevitably, some do, they, naturally, dislike even more having the fact broadcast. And 20 years or so ago, they must have said so. For in 2001 the government decided to cut the proportion of departments it inspects from 100% to 10%. And John Randall, the then Chief Executive of the QAA, resigned in protest.

What were we supposed to think? That without the QAA’s scrutiny, the quality and standards of university courses would still be safe in the universities’ own hands or that they would no longer be, as Mr Randall put it, “sufficiently robust to safeguard the interests and information needs of students, professional bodies and employers”?

Two things Mr Randall was surely right about: that academic standards are not a private matter for universities and that the less independent, public scrutiny they receive the lower they are likely to be. But, it ought to be noted, he had a peculiar idea of what makes scrutiny independent and public. I don’t think he would count as “public” the haphazard and unofficial network of judgements that make up the reputation of, say, a writer or a journal and which used to make up the reputation of university departments too, before we needed a government agency for “assuring quality”.

For such a network is made up of individual judgements that are—in contrast to his “public”—private. They are occasional, provisional and always subject to contradiction: my English master, for instance, telling me, 60-odd years ago, that if I couldn’t get into Cambridge I should try for University College London or Bristol but not Oxford. Or advising someone they would be wasting their time studying anything with “Media” or “Leisure” in the title. Such criticism is certainly necessary but it has no public status as Mr Randall or any of his successors understand the term. It’s just “personal opinion”. By “independent” or “public” scrutiny, Chief Executives, with a remit, like Mr Randall, never mean any sum of fallible personal opinions and observations, however public and publicly debated. In their view of things, Shakespeare himself couldn’t be known to be a great playwright and poet without having first been pronounced so by a government agency with a remit to pronounce so.

They always and only ever mean the unimpeachable verdicts delivered by an organ of state set up to deliver unimpeachable verdicts: judgements made systematically—through “arrangements for assuring quality”—and turned into “information” (that is, put beyond contradiction). By “public” they mean “official”. Their “public” is the public of Clause 4 and state monopolies, of the soviets. It is the “public” of the capitalist apparatchik—of a CEO with a government remit.

That Mr Randall resigned when the Agency he headed was emasculated showed that he was a conscientious public servant and an honourable man but it didn’t mean that his resignation was necessarily a significant loss to education. The absurdly named Quality Assurance Agency is supposed to “assure” the standards of university teaching but it never occurs to anyone responsible for it that its own standards might need “assuring” too—that that’s what criticism is like, always inviting a rejoinder, never information, without a bottom line,

A QAA verdict on one of Manchester University’s departments, for instance, was that its final-year work “lacked sufficient academic rigour in terms of theoretical underpinning, critical analysis, and familiarity with current academic research”—which might look like a judgement worth having—but only if you didn’t know that the subject in question was ‘Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism’, sure to be made fraudulent by the least touch of anything resembling “theory”, “analysis” or “research”. The Quality Assurance Agency was merely reproducing and reinforcing the fraudulence it ought to have been exposing. Which is to say that it is a fraud too. And then, of course, there were the newspapers—themselves no better—reporting the QAA’s verdict as if it were akin to a Which? Guide.

The QAA and the Ofs, with or without conscientious public servants at their heads, can be nothing but hopelessly unfitted for the task of scrutinizing university standards because they lack the very quality Mr Randall unthinkingly thought characterised the QAA of his time, independence. The test for the government-funded QAA of what is and is not proper university work is the same as that of the government-funded universities themselves: is the government willing to fund the study of this ‘subject’? What other test could there be? If the government pays for half the population to go to university, what half the population does when it gets there must be proper university work, whatever it is. If the government pays for university departments of ‘Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism’, then ‘Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism’ must be a real academic subject. If university students may read (shall we say “read”?) ‘Philosophy and Waste Management’ at Northampton University College, ‘Theology and Water Resources’ or ‘Aromatherapy and Politics’, at Oxford Brookes, ‘Healing Arts and Popular Music’ at Derby, ‘Therapeutic Bodywork’ at Westminster, ‘Watersports Studies’ at Southampton Institute, all these courses, and the hundreds like them, must be, as John Clare, Education Editor of the Daily Telegraph, said (August 15, 2001), “intellectually challenging and academically rigorous”.

Mr Randall went to the QAA, he said, “from outside the academic world”—as if that qualified him to judge it. But what “from outside the academic world” meant for him and the essentially uneducated political class that established the QAA and appointed him its Chief Executive was not ‘from the world, the world at large’, of general, unspecialised intelligence and common judgment, the really public world, in which, for example, newspapers exist; it meant only that he came from one department of officialdom, that of trade unions and professional bodies, and went to another, that of government agencies, where he inspected the workings of a third, that of the government-funded university system. Understandably, one of the things he carried from his old employment to his new was a perfect confidence that what is official is real. How could he not?

QAAs and Ofss are, perhaps, able to say whether the departments they inspect are good of their kind; what they can’t say is whether the kinds they are good of are any good or not and whether the work done in them is worth doing. Such questions, the most important of all, aren’t—for them—askable. They belong to that category of things of which, being unable to speak, we must forever remain silent. The inspectors inspect the quality of the teaching not of what is taught. Let what is said in the lecture or seminar be never so dull or trivial or confused, if it is taught effectively, that is, can be reproduced by those it is taught to, it is taught well. And let what is said be never so profound or important, if the lecture’s outcomes don’t match its aims and objectives, it has been taught badly. The inadequacies of a Wittgenstein or a Leavis wouldn’t succeed in this regime.

The universities are full of fake subjects taught by fake teachers, studied by fake students and inspected by fake inspectors; and the more fake education we provide and pay for, the less we are able to distinguish it from the genuine. But the QAA can’t say so because it is just as much the creature of its master the government as the universities that put on the courses it inspects. And it is the government, of course, that wants such courses. How else can it fulfil its boast of putting one-in-two of us through so-called universities? How else, except by destroying the universities as universities, can we prosper in the competitive world of the twenty-first century?

Duke Maskell writes Reactionary Essays at dukemaskell.substack.com
He is the joint author of The New Idea of a University, Imprint Academic, 2002


[1]The New Idea of a University, pp. 63-71, Duke Maskell and Ian Robinson, Imprint Academic, 2002
[2] Ibid, pp. 122-144
[3] Ibid, pp. 36-56

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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?


[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


[7] Telegraph 14th May 2021:

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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.

Continue reading

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