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Pavarotti with David Mellor

Daily Mail picture

Having slated Classic FM for its 25th birthday concert from Liverpool in my previous post (in which I too late saw I had wrongly, in my exhausted grumpy state, typed Bartok rather than Bruch – sorry) I thought I should redress the balance having enjoyed a couple of hours of superb music, with the most musically knowledgeable of the station’s presenters and, for me, the greatest tenor, certainly of ‘our times’. I’m talking about David Mellor paying homage to Pavarroti on Sunday evening, on the 10th anniversary of the death of the ‘King of the high Cs’.

I have to admit that when I first heard of David Mellor’s programme on Classic FM several years ago I groaned and was ready to turn the radio off (I had the same reaction when I heard that damned gardener was joining the team). When Mellor was a Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s then John Major’s Governments I had mixed feelings about him. I admired his outspokeness on Israeli treatment of Palestinians though it got him into quite a bit of trouble; I was saddened by his outburst to a taxi driver but only because it made him sound a twit (Mellor that is) – I’ve had my run-ins with cabbies; as for extra-marital affairs, I regarded them as none of my business. Unfortunately the report that he liked sex dressed in the Chelsea FC strip turned out to be a fabrication. I reckoned the detractors were just jealous that such an unlikely guy had ‘pulled’ a slim, attractive 6ft tall Antonia de Sancha.

Anecdotes

One of the things I like about his Classic FM programmes is the anecdotes about the many great musicians he has met, often revealing aspects of the great men and women of music of which I would otherwise be unaware. One such was a highlight of Sunday’s programme: when Mellor was at his lowest point thanks to the mass media, shortly before he had to resign his Government post, coming off stage Pavarotti went out of his way to give him a hug and tell him not to be put down by it. This confirmed for me a feeling I’ve always had about the big man, communicated to me previously only by his singing.

There were many wonderful moments in Sunday’s broadcast, many of the recordings I had not heard before, but three stood out for me. One was Pavarotti singing to his home crowd at an open air concert in Modena. His enjoyment, sheer joy, was evident in every song. The second was him singing with Joan Sutherland, a partnership made in heaven. Third was him hitting the nine high Cs as Tonio in, La Fille du Regiment; I’ve heard it many times but it is ever a wonder.

As for Mellor, I don’t know how he gets away with it but he doesn’t add “On Classic FM”, as seems obligatory for all the other presenters, to the end of every announcement of a piece. It’s extremely irritating and generally untrue.

And he doesn’t try to sing! Lord preserve us from Alexander Armstrong – neither tuneful nor witty and now he’s tried to emulate David Bowie with Peter and the Wolf. It took me all of five seconds to reach the ‘off’ switch. But it’ll be on again before next Sunday’s Mellor spot.


An aside: after six weeks writing almost only my Facebook diary (I don’t regard that as writing) I’ve suddenly got the urge really to write again. At the moment it’s an urge to write blog posts (never, I promise you, several a day!) but I’ll maybe get to fiction again soon.

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If you don’t like so-called ‘classical music’ this post will not be of interest. However, if you do and have yet to discover ‘Classic FM Revision’ it might be.

I have listened to Classic FM for a few years – it’s my background for many things but particularly writing, at low volume – despite the often annoying advertisements, silly announcements that I am listening to Classic FM between every piece of music, some really irritating presenters (hence the low volume) and, for me, one boring programme. Now, with ‘ … Revision’ at least the last two can be switched off without losing the continuous (but it’s not, despite the claim to be music “all in one continuous stream”) music. Also, the music seems to be on a ‘loop’ so we seem to hear the same pieces repeatedly but if it is a loop it’s quite a big one.

Don’t get me wrong, not all the Classic FM presenters are irritating: none of the women, not David Mellor (my favourite programme) , Alyd Jones nor many of the other men. So who are the irritating ones who now definitely have me switching to ‘ … Revision’?

Top of the ‘irritating’ list

First and top of the ‘irritating’ list is that presenter of some pointless tv quiz who tries so hard to be witty, Alexander Armstrong. What is more, although he has a decent voice he cannot sing, but other presenters feel obliged (are obliged?) to plug his albums and people buy them – it’s beyond me; his ‘Christmas’ offering was surely the most boring Christmas album ever produced. He even jumped on the band wagon with ‘Peter and the Wolf’, again irritating after David Bowie did it so well.

I didn’t mind the plugs for Alyd Jones as he really can sing and the diction is wonderful – as both man and boy. Handel/Somervell’s ‘Silent worship’ sung by Alyd is a delight no matter how many times I hear it.

Other irritants and the boring one

Not far behind Armstrong in the irritation stakes are the Yorkshire (unfortunately) gardener, Titchmarsh, and Suchet; both speak to us as if we’re in primary school. The most boring programme? ‘Saturday night at the movies’; there is some excellent film music, written to accompany a film, but relatively little of it can stand alone as music in my opinion, and even less might be given the tag ‘classical’.

Not continuous music

Classic FM Revision’ claims to produce non-stop music ideal for the students who like a music background to studying, as I would. It’s not quite true. The stupid frequent reminders of what programme we are listening to are there, maybe a little less frequent as there are no presenters for each piece. The silly or inappropriate advertisements are still there (are students really interested in buying a holiday home?) but, for the moment at least, they seem less frequent.

But the big plus is that when one of the irritating presenters is due to come on I can switch to ‘ … Revision’, but switch back for a more varied selection of music with a pleasant presenter when they have finished.

Mushrooms cut ready for cooking

This post was going to be just about my mushroom dish, inspired by my recently found Latvian blogging friend, Ilze. However, I must comment on David Mellor’s Classic FM two hour programme on Sunday, about Maria Callas. I said in my post of about three weeks ago following his programme about Pavarotti, that his is for me the best programme by far on Classic FM. I’ve been listening to him when I could for a few years but I reckon his programme last evening was probably his best ever.

I’ve long held that Maria Callas was the greatest diva even though her voice wasn’t always the best, particularly in her later years. Mellor, as ever with carefully chosen recordings, illustrated just why he thinks so too (if you have the Classic FM app for iPhone or iPad, or the Android version, you can listen to the programme, in fact any programme, again for up to 7 days after broadcast).

Back to mushrooms

I’ve had one or two discussions with Ilze, on her blog, about the mushrooms she forages from the close by forest, the latest about a ‘new’ one for her – Delicious Milk Cap. I don’t have much possibility to forage for fungi here and even if I had it would be a steep learning curve to know which are safe; probably I’d never be confident enough.

Reading her latest recipe, with the ‘Delicious …’ she had found, determined me to try to give more taste to my usual dish of cultivated mushrooms in sour cream, a dish I make fairly often for our ‘no meat’ days. So here’s my recipe (tap the pictures to see captions).

Ingredients

Chestnut mushrooms – 300g

Sour cream – 300g

Oil (sunflower, rape or olive – on this occasion I used the latter) – 2 tbspn

Butter -10g (about)

Medium red onion – 1/2  

Cloves of garlic – A few

Ground ginger – 1/2 tspn

Leaves of Tarragon – a few

Salt and pepper – to taste.

Method

Wipe the mushrooms and cut in half. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan until the butter foam has almost subsided (this indicates it is sufficiently hot to sauté the mushrooms rather than boil them in their own juice – the butter also gives a bit of taste). Sauté the mushrooms till just beginning to brown on each side. Remove from the pan.

Turn down the heat. Add the roughly chopped onion to the pan. Meanwhile crush the garlic cloves by putting a broad bladed knife on them and bash with a fist. When the onions are transparent raise the heat a bit and add the garlic. Stir a few times until the garlic has begun to brown.

Return the mushrooms to the pan, add the chopped tarragon and sprinkle on the ginger.  Turn over a few times until the mushrooms are hot again, add the sour cream and heat, stirring, until it’s just beginning to bubble. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

The result

We ate it just with my home baked wholemeal bread – very tasty – but rice would go well. A good chilled Chardonnay went well too (I know there’s a lot of rubbish with that name so it’s fallen out of favour but a good French one is, well, very good!). A side salad works too.

When I make it again I will probably substitute finely grated ginger root for the ground variety, and maybe a dash of cayenne to get closer to the peppery taste the wild mushrooms (and their more ‘dangerous’ cousins Woolly Milk Cap) are prized by Latvians for. You’ll find Ilzie’s recipe for the Delicious Milk Cap on her blog, and how she deals with the ‘poisonous’ Woolly on her blog too.