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MUSIC American beauty


he final week of the 2011 Proms featured two American orchestras. Although the Philadelphia had declared itself bankrupt in July, it still turned up and stole the series. The best wine had been kept till last (Prom 72, 8 September) . Its golden brasses, eloquent woodwind and sumptuous strings kept spell- bound an audience that, for long stretches, completely forgot to cough or shut doors. Chief conductor Charles Dutoit merely nudged the brass into Sibelius’ Finlandia and their unforced crescendos rolled on to the prommers like waves. The subsequent string entry hovered above the heads of the players, a pneumatic cushion of sound with tangible depth and fibrous tone. How could anything so beautiful be short of cash, we wondered. The woodwind had their supremacy in Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances when saxo phones rasped the melodic line while the flutes sweetened and the woodier reeds counter pointed the magical texture. The Dances had been composed for the orchestra when Eugene Ormandy was in charge. Now under the suave, elegant Dutoit, they waltzed as the bull does before the matador whose commanding art is in his gesture.


Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen: ‘remarkable boldness’

The sweetness of the flutes was particularly apparent in Dutch violinist Janine Jansen’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. The silver tube echoed the soloist’s singing phrase like a trained bird, trilling for warmth, any shrillness anathema. For her part, Jansen’s tone was inspirational. She seemed at times to be serenading the orchestra as well as chal- lenging it to emulate the tiny pianissimo she dared to entertain an audience of 5,000 with. She played an encore – the Sarabande from Bach’s Second Violin Suite. Coincidentally, German violinist Anne-

Sophie Mutter had chosen the same encore two nights earlier (Prom 69, 6 September), but her tone was much drier and failed to weep like Jansen’s did. Mutter had played Wolfgang Rihm’s Gesungene Zeit (“Sung Time”) with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck. A sombre, morose mood pervades the work. The lone- liness of the soloist is emphasised, the reduced orchestra consisting mostly of empty desks. They were full again for Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. The dead march of the first move- ment was heavily doom-laden in response to Honeck’s clenched-fist conducting. But there was no let-up to this powerful, gloomy opening and the sense of foreboding lasted the evening so that the love-song Adagietto seemed full only of regret and sorrow. Fortunately, human nature being what it is, we will remember not the deathly Pittsburghers, but the sublime Philadelphians. Rick Jones

Wesker is. The Kitchen is remarkable for its structural boldness. Requiring 30 actors, the play is an extra ordinary combination of extreme realism and startling anti-naturalism. Based on Wesker’s experience as a cook in a Paris restaurant, it meticulously places on stage the kitchens of a large Italian restaurant in London; the vast cast includes the porters, cooks, pastry chefs, waitresses, head waiter and owner of the establishment. The intricacy of the set (designed by Giles Cadle) and the action require metaphorical choreography from the director (Bijan Sheibani), which gives way to actual choreography (movement director Aline David) during interludes in which the entire kitchen is at work, miming to music. Given the speed with which innovation becomes cliché in theatre, it’s almost impossible to write a play that still feels pioneering 50 years on but Wesker has achieved it in the lightning turns from work play to expressionist fantasy. In this play, his characterisation and plotting

is more conventional than elsewhere. The personae and much of the dialogue rest on the rather obvious metaphor of the kitchen as a racial melting pot – with post-war immi- grants of various flags – which threatens to become a hot spot, as their workplace contains both fire and knives. And the organising story - line involves the familiar fictional territory of extra-marital affairs between staff, rather than events directly related to cooking or the man- agement of a restaurant, which might have been more satisfying. The acting, though, is magnificent. In a

play lasting two hours, the action risks more resembling an audition than a production, with performers sometimes having only min- utes to make a lasting impression. Most do, while, among the more substantial roles, Tom Brooke is outstanding as the moodily romantic boiled-fish chef Peter and Bruce Myers also excels as Marango, the proprietor whose atti- tudes to health and safety and personnel will astonish most of those coming to the Olivier after a day in a modern business. Given the demands of casting and staging,

it’s likely that only the National Theatre could revive The Kitchenand Wesker’s journey from suing the theatre to this splendid return is a very happy one for him as he approaches his landmark birthday. A writer viewed in the latter part of the twentieth century as leftovers is back on the menu as hot stuff. Mark Lawson

RADIO Reading class

Comp Lit BBC RADIO 4


ome years ago, the critic Francis Spufford published a wonderful piece of cultural

analysis called The Boy That Books Built. Its subject was the varieties of children’s literature read by anyone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and the moral implications of the aver- age child’s exposure to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, the “Little House” books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Joan Aiken and other staples of the era. The former teacher Nick Baker began Comp

Lit (8 September) where Spufford left off. His thesis was that come the mid-1970s, post- war children’s literature had entered a period of stagnation: its constituency a captive middle class, its neglected readers a much larger band of “ordinary” children, educated at state schools, who were offered few fictional rep- resentations of the lives they actually lead. A new wave of children’s writers – such as Farrukh Dhondy, Jan Needle, Gene Kemp and Bernard Ashley – began to promote a brand of social realism, in which the heroes and heroines could be black, live on council estates and, rather than affecting “naughtiness” of the William kind, be downright bad. Great claims were made for this new literary movement. The “Grange Hill” books – spin- offs from the TV series – were thought to have revolutionised reading habits. Farrukh Dhondy, it was pointed out, had gone on to become a commissioning editor at Channel 4 and, it was suggested, acted as godfather to racial integration. The writers, on the other hand, seemed happy with more modest billings, although hostile criticism was fondly recalled. However welcome these social-realist re- imaginings of early-adolescent life, one felt like pointing out that most of the books men- tioned here haven’t survived, while Lewis, Ingalls Wilder and co. are still going strong. Neither was the characterisation of the golden age as a succession of middle-class fantasy lands wholly accurate. Never mind Eve Garnett’s The Family From One End Street, with its cargo of dustmen’s children, to which Baker several times referred, the classic Puffin lists had their share of the reasonably down to earth (what about Elizabeth Stucley’s Magnolia Buildings, set on a flyblown south London council estate?). There was little here, too, about the “aspir - ational” tendencies of most children’s books. Just as the girls’ boarding school stories of the 1930s were largely read by children like my mother, who would never go near St Anastasia’s, so part of J.K. Rowling’s success can be attributed to her trick of deploying “ordinary” children in the exotic setting of Hogwarts castle. It would have been good to hear from a few academics at work in the field as well as Nick Baker’s ravening social-realist horde. D.J. Taylor

17 September 2011 | THE TABLET | 29

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