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Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky Listeners' Diary - 11 February 2007

Two Radio 3 listeners are keeping an online diary throughout The Tchaikovsky Experience.

Paul Beecham
Paul Beecham
Well, it has definitely been a great start to this intensive session.

After having said I was particularly looking forward to discovering unknown and obscure repertoire I was struck by how much of Saturday's programming seemed familiar. I particularly like the Orchestral Suite number 2 which I believe I have heard once before but don't know at all well. I suppose it would be a little irreverent to consider them Symphonies-lite but that thought did come to mind at the time. What do others think?

Like Rosalind I have enjoyed the spoken interludes especially the description of the underground stations, as palaces of the people. I have visited St Petersburg and was stunned by the whole experience, including the metro. The amazing thing is just how deep it is. Whereas the Thames is a relatively shallow river, thus our underground it not that deep, the Neva is extremely deep so you mount the escalator and descend into the bowels of the earth, eventually to arrive at a marble-clad and beautifully lit underworld. It was an incredible sight.

Anyway, I digress. The other interlude I loved was the accounts of people's first impressions of hearing The Rite of Spring. It is clearly a piece that has made a great impression on people from its first performance right through to the present day.

If I have one gripe it's the programming of incomplete movements such as the third movement of the Sixth Symphony on Saturday morning. I'm not sure what this is supposed to achieve when we have complete performances of the symphonies across the whole week. If we wanted to compare interpretations then chopping them up doesn't really achieve that. So apart from that it's going very well, with a lovely contrast between the two composers. As ever we all have our preferences and I must confess to being less engaged in the chamber works and songs than the orchestral and choral works, but then I knew that before I started the week. Still the mix is nicely varied so there's always something coming along soon that appeals.

My highlights have been the many piano versions of better-known pieces which I think I became conditioned to love after hearing the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, which I think is one of the most powerful and vivid piano pieces ever composed. Anyone agree? Or is he off-subject this week?

Tom St Aubyn

Hello Paul. I see you are a choral singer. I wondered if you have been able to catch any of the more unusual Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky choral works and what you think? Have you ever had to sing in Russian?

Paul Beecham

Hi Tom, I have been listening out for as many choral works as possible and I was particularly taken by the Tchaikovsky 3 Cherubic Hymns on Monday night (about 23.00). The sound of the Moscow Chamber Choir was amazing. I'm sure you understand what I mean by that unique Russian sound, that seems to involve a richness of tone and depth of bass that just isn't found anywhere else. We always used to joke about what Russian children were fed on to make them develop such deep bass voices.

I have sung quite a lot of Russian in the past, from the popular Rachmaninov Vespers through many obscure part-songs by almost unknown composers. I also learnt to read Russian when I visited, which was a real asset there and also when singing as well. Saying that you still have to resort to the odd phonetic note on the score!

I'm sure there are still many treasures to come in the choral repertoire this week, particularly the feast planned for Tuesday evening, including the Coronation Cantata by Tchaikovsky (I wonder what constitutes a Large Symphony Orchestra?) and the Mass by Stravinsky. I hope you enjoy them too.

Lindsay Thomson

As with all the 'Experiences' so far, I relish hearing music that I would not normally have the chance to hear, or perhaps more accurately, choose to hear. In a world of increasingly personalised entertainment, there is still a place for having the table d'hote rather than the a la carte.

That's why I can't really understand all the moaning that goes on about these projects. It's one week of broadcasting maybe once a year - although the 'complete' concept is simple enough, the way it's programmed has to be done with great skill. People complain that they'd rather hear all these pieces spread throughout the year in 'normal' programming, but realistically so much unfamiliar music is unlikely EVER to be played - no matter who is running the station - so basically I'm grateful for this opportunity to focus, and find the extra bit of effort required to catch things maybe if they are during the night actually rather exciting.

With all three Experiences so far, the effort invested has reminded me of what it's like going to a Ring Cycle - you do get caught up in the collective experience and this for me is a welcome change from 'normal' broadcasting.

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