David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, when there are sufficient of them. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Phenomenally Canonical

Thinking about 'the canon', as I reluctantly was recently, this week's TLS includes a reference to how Spenser 'canonized' Chaucer. Didn't actually make him a saint but, oh yes, of course, I never made the connection.
In the same review, Bernard O'Donoghue, who I was lucky enough to meet once in Oxford because I was wandering round with an ex-student of his, draws our attention to The Miller's Tale,
He knew nat Catoun, for his wit was rude.
which is a fine example of why I like Chaucer now if not when it might have been more useful at A level. It doesn't mean that the miller was a bit like Roy 'Chubby' Brown but it sounds to me as if it does.
Also in the TLS last week, an article by Clive Wilmer looking suspiciously like a trailer for his long, long, long awaited Selected Thom Gunn, which is due next week, useful above all else for the photograph of Charlotte, the poet's mother. It is not usual these days for the poetry world to be inundated with good-looking poets but most would probably agree that Gunn was handsome and now we can see where he got it from. So the TLS, providing it goes on providing such things, survives as a subscription.

This weekend should see me finish Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe, a novel about which the verdict is likely to stay in the balance until it resolves itself into what is due. Just can't say yet. And then the decks are cleared to take some minor things, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and the Collected Charlotte Mew (to perhaps have a look at the stories) away while I flatter myself that my input is useful as my nephew obliterates the mark I set 22 years ago for 12 Hours of riding a bike. It's likely he will go beyond my 217.888 miles with about an hour to go, which is fine by me. So we had better make sure he does.
It's hard to believe that I ever did such a thing but I was reminded on the radio not long ago that the cells that comprise us are constantly dying off and being replaced by new ones. I think what has happened with me is that the cells that made me do sport, take an interest in the football or cricket scores or even, once, support Bjorn Borg against McEnroe or Jimmy Connors, have been replaced by others that make me want to buy a CD of The Magic Flute for my new great nephew. Maybe none of us are who we used to be and that might be a good thing. It might be disconcerting but it is more interesting than being the same person now that I was 40 years ago. And I'm grateful for that.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017



Lone cat cries in the ragged night,
detached from syntax, mess the thoughts
one might have had of decorum
or sentences that could make sense.
But we know well enough the place,
unfit for the lovely, somewhere
we know from cheap films long ago
set deep in Transylvania.
There is only one universe,
and I’m afraid that’s what it means,
and so this is no fiction made
to scare you on a Friday night
with popcorn and cola to hand.
The madness dispersing inside
us is astronomy and, for all
we know, the next cupboard or door
opened will contain Vincent Price,
the music that you loved to dread,
or all your nightmares come at once,
a tortoiseshell so nervous that
you know it’s you that you have found
but not quite as you thought you were.    

Michael Longley - Angel Hill

Michael Longley, Angel Hill (Cape)

As has happened before with Michael Longley's poetry, it dawns on me to ask exactly how much is going on in his poems. Disarmingly gentle, without the pyrotechnics and showy techniques of so many among the generations that followed him, his compatriot Paul Muldoon most notable among them, one is tempted to wonder if the 'poetry', whatever that is, will gradually be removed entirely from his work and we will be left with only the notes, the observations, the sense of place and family.
And, yes, perhaps we will. Because here, in a beautifully, apparently undemanding book, he's almost telling us so. In Age, he concludes that,
Poetry is shrinking almost to its bones.

That is late in the collection, long after the opening poem, The Magnifying Glass, about a gift from Fleur Adcock, which is a fine metaphor for his poetry in the close scrutiny of plants that he uses it for and the observation and deep appreciation of his natural environment, and we might remember how The Stairwell provided an alternative manifesto poem in his previous collection, as if some poets, quite rightly, can't help but justify their methods with some sort of parallel from life itself.
And if poetry itself is a theme that recurs here then so are other familiar subjects- the ornithology, nature, World War 1, family, now his fiftieth wedding anniversary and, inexhaustibly, Carrigskeewaun.
Blessed with the place names that they have, Irish poets rarely turn down the opportunity to cash in on them and Longley has one of his very own. At its best, though, poetry does more than would usually be expected with ordinary words and wouldn't rely on ready-made items available in the dictionary or on sign posts. All of which is a petulant objection to the work of an author who can provide Donkeys, that are 'obstinate, immune to wallopings', probably not unlike their author would be.
Longley's strength is the way he makes it look so effortless and is thus entirely convincing. He is not the only one who wasn't Seamus Heaney but you look, look again and wonder how much more is being achieved than first met your eye.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton)

Thirty years ago I submitted a story to a local fiction magazine and subsequently received the inevitable rejection letter that offered the advice that the piece didn't use enough dialogue. They needn't have worried, it was a lousy effort. But I've sometimes wondered how much dialogue Virginia Woolf puts in and whether somewhere there is an index of fiction writers to show their ratio of dialogue to non-dialogue and who is at either end of the scale.
It struck me again here that pages seemed to be going by without dialogue. I don't think there's anything wrong with that but the reason for it in Arundhati Roy's long-awaited second novel is that it is filled with characters all of who have to have their back story told as they appear. It is understandable that modern India needs to be comprehended as a teeming population of many varied histories and how else does one do it but present as many of them as it takes.
The war in Kashmir provides the context for many of the atrocities described in often captivating prose that is at odds with the horrors it brings with it. If there it is sectarianism that causes the inhumanity and horror, it is more generally an essay on the faults of capitalism, which would not be to say that similar things didn't happen under other prevailing economic systems, but,
On TV they said that that summer homeless people had taken to sleeping on the edges of roads with heavy traffic. They had discovered that diesel exhaust fumes from passing trucks and buses were an effective mosquito repellent
and the outbreak of dengue fever.
But, not having had time to re-acquaint myself with The God of Small Things, this book seems more ambitious but also, in line with Arundhati's writing and campaigning since, more polemical, less well-formed and possibly less successful. Expectations were so high, though, that it was always going to be up against it.
One of the more notably gorgeous passages comes in the relationship of Musa and Tilo,
    -the smoke of her into the solidness of him, the solitariness of her into the gathering of him, the strangeness of her into the straightforwardness of him, the insouciance of her into the restraint of him.
I hadn't intended to make this a comparative study of Arundhati and Virginia but it brings to mind the 'arid scimitar' of the male contrasted with femimine intuition in To the Lighthouse and is one of any number of passages that convince us that Utmost Happiness would be a great book by most standards but we are reading it in the shadow of such impossible hopes (assuming that The God of Small Things is still the mmiracle we thought it was twenty years ago).
The ending presents some kind of resolution, some pages of closure but, given what we've been though, I'm not convinced. Having been unflinching in the catalogue of torture, murder, violence, prejudice, injustice and maladministration, impressive and undoubtedly 'true' as it all is - and few will idealize the sub-continent as a soulful, spiritual retreat having considered its downside- one isn't ready to accept any sort of happy ending gloss. It is magnificent but, perhaps wrongly, I prefer poem to polemic by now and though few admire an anti-capitalist foot soldier more than me, I did spend too much of the 1970's reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his reportage from Soviet Russia had themes in common with Arundhati's.      

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


 It is twenty years and a few more since I bought two double CD's of Ashkenazy's Sibelius Symphonies with other useful bits attached. The intention at the time was to add other complete symphony cycles as I went but there were plenty of alternative things needed buying and so it never happened. I had, or had had, all the Beethoven in various formats but symphonies weren't necessarily my main interest, having originally, as a teenager, thought they were the main event. But one can't dismiss Puccini simply because he didn't write them.
And so it hasn't been until quite recently that the project was revived as an outlet for expenditure once the right horses have prevailed. In the last year or so, in roughly this order, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert have been added to the burgeoning collection in their cute little boxes. Haydn and Mozart were too prolific to expect to be invited in any time soon because the discs do need listening to; Mahler and Bruckner need not raise their hopes too high because I doubt I have world enough or time to indulge myself with them and Shostakovich is rather bigger than I can manage. So, the foray into that particular niche market might have reached a point at which it can rest for them time being.
But it is Harnoncourt's account of Schubert 5 that prompts me to write about what a luxury it is to have them all to hand and what a success the idea has been, finding these long-playing sets often for the price of one new release disc.
As one finds with listening to 16 discs of Chopin over a couple of weeks, one soon becomes attuned to each composer's nuances of style which, for most of the above, amounts to which bits of Beethoven they sound like because the C19th symphony is surely generated by the nine he left us.
Schubert 5 was only vaguely familiar but, like Brahms 4, which was more so, it will be returned to as a place of safe haven and is capable of giving more rather than a diminishing amount on each reprise. Brahms apparently destroyed large amounts of music because he didn't think it lived up to Beethoven's benchmark standard but I think the old boy would have been happy with Brahms 4 if he'd thought of it first, which he might have.
It is not universally accepted in academic circles that Franz Schubert didn't finish his unfinished symphony because 'everything stopped for tea', neither is it generally agreed why he didn't. It's probably not because he died, although of course he did die. Having heard it in full sumptuousness from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra a few years ago, I was prepared to accept that after two sublime movements, he had nothing good enough to add as third and fourth. But the notes on the Harnoncourt set develop that peremptory conclusion by explaining that the finale was recycled into Rosamunde because there were technical difficulties that couldn't be resolved in trying to forge a satisfactory third movement. D'oh.
Mendelssohn, as I never tire of suggesting, never gets sufficient credit and if the Italian is his best known symphony, it should be for its hypnotic Andante as much as the lively opening, but he offers more in the choral fifth. Schumann is currently struggling to demand his share of attention in this august company although his time will come and Dvorak beyond the spacious theme of the bracing 7th has not created the impression he might have beyond a certain surging and relenting of powerful outbursts on a series that, so far, merge into one. Whereas Beethoven, of course, belongs in a league of his own, not necssarily as an outright personal favourite but as the obvious class act.
So, given time, it is possible to become the person you wanted to be, surveying all your symphony cycles in among the choral music, the concertos, the solo piano, violin or cello, the opera, the mistakes one made and the Albrechtsberger Concertos for Jew's Harp.
And the only reason Berlioz doesn't get a mention is that Symphonie Fantastique doesn't require a box set. But there we are, the symphony, one ends up where one began, back in about 1971, with Mozart 40, and like that 45 rpm single, what goes around comes around.  

Sunday, 18 June 2017


The Direct Debits have been undergoing a bit of a reshuffle in recent months.

A charity or two go out of favour and have to be replaced and then magazines come under review. The TLS has found itself under pressure in recent weeks but earns a reprieve with features on Virginia Woolf, George Eliot and Louis MacNeice this week.
Chief rival to the TLS, which I only took up the special offer on last year to follow correspondance arising from our seminal Shakespeare letter, is the London Review of Books, which will no doubt get its extended chance in due course. But an advert last week tempted me to consider the James Joyce Quarterly and only a good lokk at their website persuaded me it was more than I required.
My history of magazine subscriptions runs from Rover (and Wizard), through The Listener and Weekend Racing Blue, to a few old littlepress poetry magazines, then Poetry Review, PNR and now the TLS and Gramophone. The Observer has been dropped after over 30 years of regular Sunday reading and, quite honestly, The Times on Saturday provides book reviews, the crossword and regular features that make it the closest thing, though still a long way from, the sort of magazine that provides what one wants to read.
However, it is in the same way that one writes poems because no other poet is writing quite the sort of poems one wants to read that I maintain this website. There isn't exactly the sort of magazine available that I'd like to subscribe to, so I write my own.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Frieda Hughes - Alternative Values

Frieda Hughes, Alternative Values, Chichester Cathedral

It was entirely by chance and, honestly, completely unexpected that I happened upon Frieda Hughes setting up this exhibition in Chichester Cathedral on Tuesday. I was less star-struck than somewhat overawed by who I was talking to but, more than any of that, thrilled by her openness and charisma with somebody like me who could have been anybody and, quite honestly, might not even be that. But it must count in my favour that I knew who she was. So it was a bit of a disappointment that she wasn't there today to sign books and gladhand the public, any of who might have had £5k to spare to buy a painting. It is Chichester after all but even there, you'd still have to be sitting down when you ring the artist herself to ask the price of 400 Days.
The 400 small canvasses that dominate the area were done on 400 consecutive days as a kind of diary that became an obsession. Having seen it on Tuesday, I had hoped Frieda would be there to ask if they were assembled in the same arrangement every time or if it's random or chronological or by theme. It's possibly by theme but, having noted some of her key to the colours used, and she is nothing in these paintings if not a flamboyant colourist, I was glad to see that orange and yellow, that predominate = happiness with friends, exciting news. Blue = serenity whereas red and black have inevitably more ominous overtones, but it is yellow that she would have been needing to re-order most regularly.
It would, of course, have to be one on the top row that I wanted to have a closer look at but that is just some natural perversity in my, and plenty of other people's, make up. But colourful abstraction overflows both in its immensity on first sight and the realisation that these are quite detailed works individually. As a journal of such a period, it is seen all at once and, on closer inspection, day by day but you take away from it a very positive charge of vibrant energy and vitality that seems to be what Frieda is.
The catalogue, which is pragmatically entitled a price list and is not an art book, lists sixty-seven other paintings and so we shouldn't assume it's all about 400 Days. I would have been reluctant to ask about her family, the subject having been covered so thoroughly and distorted in so many ways by any who think they can use it like some case history but Frieda doesn't seem to want to evade the issues. Epoch-making and legendary poets though they were - and to my mind it is Sylvia who left us the more convincing body of work- Frieda is entirely herself and strong and confident enough not to be living in their penumbra even if one could hardly have blamed her if she had to. Here are paintings explicitly titled For Shura, Brother's Birth, and any number of others, like Playing Gods, whose titles could refer to potential traumas but the most tempting of them is Embryo which one wants to relate to Sylvia's poem You're, which is quite possibly about Frieda as embryo herself.
A favourite of mine was Love Poem for a Motorbike, one of the least colourful and, strangely, because I personally wouldn't share any love of motorised two-wheeled transport. It would be either that, at £3.5k, or the already sold Memory Loss 2 that I'd have bought if I had landed the ITV 7 today.
Words in paintings can work. One thinks of Hockney's We Two Boys Together Clinging or Ceci n'est pas une pipe but the several paintings here in which Frieda includes sometimes a whole poem perhaps risk being neither one thing or the other. If a painting can suggest words, although it's often better if it doesn't, poems can certainly bring pictures to mind so whether paintings benefit from being the ornamental surround to a poem remains for others to advocate one way or the other but Frieda, it seems to me, is a natural painter. Like Callum Best, Julian Lennon, Ziggy Marley or Franz Xavier Mozart, she had an open invitation to celebrity but an impossible job on if she ever thought she could achieve more than her parents did in their discipline.
But nobody has to and this exhibition shows how she is much more Frieda than she is Sylvia's daughter. Having long been more of a Larkin man myself, I'm delighted to recognize that man doesn't have to always hand on misery to man although you would have to take a bit of a detour to get out of Chichester Cathedral to avoid passing the Arundel Tomb which made Larkin go to such lengths to undermine his resonant final line, 'what will survive of us is love' that many readers refuse to accept is qualified and re-qualified until it is an ironic echo of an untruth.
Larkin didn't believe it, not on the evidence of that poem, but Frieda brings a generosity to art and life that puts the likes of Larkin and I to shame with our hard-won English self-deprecation. Let's have a holiday from that, a sabbatical, some respite, some letting of our hair down.
Get there if you can.     

Pavlos Carvalho

Pavlos Carvalho, Bach Cello Suites nos. 1 & 5, St. John's Chapel, Chichester, June 17th

Festival weather is all very well until it coincides with a festival. Some of us with a weight and age ratio that makes us more prone to perspiration have to take it gently in such overwhelming conditions and would prefer festivals in September and October. But it was worth it to have a second day this week in Chichester and a friendly, and very useful, recital of two of Bach's Cello Suites.
As with the last visit, there was a change to the advertised programme and we got no.5 rather than no.6, due to a recent injury setback that meant Pavlos wasn't best prepared for the technical demands of no.6.
No matter. It was an opportunity for him to explain about no.5 and he was very enlightening about this 'bible of cello music' re-discovered by Pablo Casals, the origins of which we know sdo little about. If you took John Eliot Gardiner's book as evidence, you'd think the Cello Suites and Well-Tempered Klavier were peripheral pieces in the oeuvre but Gardiner is a cantata man less disposed to extrapolating on this lone instrumental voyage.
With the suites being so central to the repertoire, Pavlos and all other cellists are up against some mighty legacy in essaying any account. Casals, Tortelier, Rostropovich, Yo Yo Ma and Natalie Clein are five I've heard and that is betting without Isserlis. But he does well not to overdo it. The music is morte than capable of speaking for itself and Pavlos is wise to allow it to with intrusive flamboyance or exaggeration. More than once I was reminded of Marin Marais as the movements began but that was more likely my mind wandering rather than anything Pavlos intended.
Drawing our attention to the Sarabande in no. 5, he compared it to C20th minimalism, the way it is pared down to a single, unornamented line in which he needed an alternative strategy to the deft embellishments he achieved elsewhere. He described the 'stillness' of the movement, which I'm sure could bring with it any amount of meanings in different circumstances but today sounded like a lament for our troubled times when Her Majesty has seen fit to mention such things herself in a birthday message.
Soon after the subsequent Gavotte which in comparison sounds more like The Flight of the Bumble Bee, Suite no. 5 ends not with a dramatic crescendo but diminishes gently and then stops in a brilliant, brilliant piece of understatement by J.S. beautifully delivered by Pavlos.
And he is not the first to have offered Casals' own Song of the Birds as an encore, a haunting, noticeably Spanish short musical poem of soft pizzicato and evocative bowed lines that make you wonder firstly if Casals should have ben more of a composer and secondly if this piece is not a natural footnote to any performance of the Bach and eventually audiences will feel short-changed if they aren't given it.
Marvellous work by a charming and devoted musician, full of integrity, sincerity and belief. Masters though the above litany of cello world superstars might be, they can't deliver quite the intimacy in the Albert Hall that Pavlos Carvalho did in a small chapel down a side road off one of the main streets of Chichester on a Saturday lunchtime. Hats, as they were in a chapel anyway, off to him.  

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Ivan Hovorun

Ivan Hovorun, Brhams Piano Sonata no. 3 in F Minor, Chichester Cathedral, June 13th

Ivan Hovorun is a young pianist who played the first Beethoven Concerto with the Lvov Symphony Orchestra aged 11. It is indicative of the reputation and standard of Chichester Cathedral's free lunchtime concerts that such musicians come there and play but get there early if you can, like half and hour before the 1.10 pm start, because it soon fills up. I was in the third row but not on the side where you can see the keyboard. That might have been a blessing in disguise as I was thus on the side where the sound comes out and you can't get much closer to hearing it at its best than that.
In a change to the originally planned Beethoven, we had the big Brahms Sonata that doesn't suffer in comparison, whatever Brahms might have thought himself. Brahms is riding high in my estimation at present with the Rattle Symphonies, especially the lush fourth, never far from the turntable. This sonata ought soon to be following them there but, in an opportunist few words with Ivan, I found out that although he is intent on recording them, the project is a work in progress.
Perhaps the sonata is where Beethoven's music moves towards Tchaikovsky's but, as ever, it is entirely Brahms irrespective of comparisons and reference points. The first movement is a memorable tour de force, the second gentler and dreamier. I'm sure it wasn't just me but the whole audience who were more spellbound than is usual.
The theme of the finale is anthemic, possibly a hymn tune and sounds like what Rachmanninov would have been like if he had been any good. That is, of course, not fair, on Rachmanninov, the consummate late Romantic, but it's far too good a line to waste.
The advantages of live music were amply demonstrated by hearing it as clear, bell-like and resonant, with Ivan's expressive performance to see as well as hear in a clean, well-aired, bright summer place. You can't get that on any CD player and the moment is valuable because it can't be preserved.
On a marvellous day, I took the liberty of asking Ivan to sign my programme and then sneaked off into a part of the cathedral ostensibly closed off to the public. I only really intended to be reacquainted with the Chagall window but I followed on round and there was an art exhibition being installed for the forthcoming Chichester Festival.
I looked at the lady installing the paintings, who I assumed to be a curator. And she looked at me, but without the same charge of recognition.
You're Frieda.
.....slight pause, in which I hope I didn't stand and stare like a slack-jawed yokel for more than I should have. But I thought I did well in the circumstances,
I saw your dad in Cheltenham in about 1976.
Probably, in retrospect, something like what everybody says. It was, for those of you not ahead of me yet, Frieda Hughes, Ted and Sylvia's little girl from Full Moon and Little Frieda. But by now much more than the impetus that caused the poem and I reckon I'll be back there on Saturday to have a proper look at the paintings after some lunchtime Bach. I really need to be reminded of exactly how that first Cello Suite goes.
There were armed police on the streets on genteel Chichester, explaining to passers-by that they were a 'deterrent', on a glorious June lunchtime. I made a couple of choice purchases and had myself a wonderful day off. You simply can't buy days like that so thanks to everybody- Ivan, Brahms, Frieda, the police, the man in the Heart Foundation shop in Cosham who put a big Shakespeare volume aside for me to pick up in the afternoon and the statistically inevitable coincidence that when I was looking for Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe in Waterstones, I overheard someone asking for it at the counter so I intruded, as I am won't to do.
That's what I'm looking for as well.
It says here we have one copy in stock.
That's bad luck for Adam because they had three piles of Arundhati Roy.
But I said, No, that's fine. I only really want to look at it. To see if it will go through my letterbox. I'm only halfway through that one over there at the moment.   

Friday, 9 June 2017

Politics Explained

This might be quite difficult to follow but I'll try my best.

David Cameron thought he could see off the threat of UKIP, who were intruding on his vote, by holding a referendum that he thought he could win but he lost.
Theresa May was the most acceptable face to replace him with, mostly because the other options were Gove, Boris and Osborne but then she thought she could dispatch Labour into the wilderness and be monarch of all she surveyed in her negotiating position by telling the country she was strong and stable and so she asked for their endorsement. But she was wrong as well and the country didn't really believe her and so now she's not strong or stable and the most powerful MP's in the country are those marching Ulstermen.

If UKIP achieved their one policy without ever getting anm MP elected, they did at least send several to the European parliament that they don't want to be a part of. On the other hand, the Scottish Nationalists beat the retreat from their near whitewash victory in Scotland at the last General Election but couldn't win a referendum.

So now the party who perennially convince us of their sense, reliability and being safe pairs of hands have blown what was at one time a 1/20 gambling certainty, maintained the current fashion for electoral turn-ups for the books and made themselves an even finer mess than ever seemed possible.

I did actually feel some affinity with Labour and Corbyn, having voted for them, not having been a Blair fan or Labour voter very often in the past. At the start of the campaign I thought, like Theresa did, that he was unelectable and so although I've still never voted for anybody who has won an election, I have at least been pasrt of a demographic shift. All we ever learnt in our formative years becomes wrong, though. It's no longer Labour up north in an industrial heartland, it's Conservative up there because it is felt that Europe neglects them and so they want out. It's Labour down here in the south among the universities and the metropolitan elite that I find it amusing to identify with, with all my records of Vivaldi music and books by Sarah Waters and Sebastian Faulks.
It was a crying shame to see the great Nick Clegg treated like that and only some compensation to see Vince Cable back and it's quite possible I might be back with them for the next election in October.

Hubris, Nemesis, the fratricide of a Conswervative leadership contest. Luckily, we don't need contemporary writers to make literature out of it, the Greeks did it two and a half thousand years.
Theresa must be wondering how she missed that one and I wonder what Her Majesty said when she went to see her,
One ought not to be quite such a nincompoop, should one, Mrs. May.
but I know how it feels. Three yards out, ball comes in, can't possibly miss, I somehow put it over the bar.
We've all been there, lady, we've all been there.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Szymanowski - Stabat Mater

Szymanowski, Stabat Mater, Symphony no.3, Litany to the Virgin Mary, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir and soloists/Kapszyk (Warner Classics)

We should be wary of reviews because what the reviewer says in their words might not be what those words convey to us in ours. The prime example for me, many years ago now, was a disc of Rautavaara which it is not for me to say was no good but it was not what I was led to expect and it doesn't get played at all these days with so much competition up against it.
But one wouldn't take out a subscription to the foremost, venerable magazine of music reviews if one wasn't going to buy some of its highest recommendations, through the filtering process of one's own understanding.
I thought perhaps I already had a recording of Szymanowski's Stabat Mater. It is necessary to check sometimes. But, admirer of him though I am, I found no more than the Violin Concertos which weren't Szymanowski enough, not lush, lyrical and indulgently late, late Romantic enough. But, failed librarian as I am, I am no adept at filing things accurately. There must be more than that. Perhaps there isn't. And there, right next to him, is Poulenc with his Stabat Mater. That must be what I was thinking of. Rightly or wrongly, I think of them as similar.

Whether or not this is quite the Szymanowski I was expecting this time doesn't matter. It sometimes is but if and when it isn't, it is powerful stuff that won't lend itself to background listening while reading and Chopin tinkles along as a delightful distraction from the onset of silence. I'm tempted to say I can see where Gorecki found the basis of his monumental Symphony no. 3 and, whatever Polish-Russian political relations were like at the time of writing, there's big bass contributions from Artur Rucinski and if Gorecki owes it any debt then this Stabat Mater, from 1926, was presumably written with knowledge of Rachmanninov's awesome Vespers, All Night Vigil, from 1915 because, rather than the gentler lyricism I was anticipating, and am in receipt of plenty of, there's much more of the vast, Russian canopy about it than anything frail or merely gorgeous.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, here is a booklet in Polish and English, never mind the German or French, and why would it not be. That is not ominous or full of foreboding but the music certainly is. For a moment, one is allowed to think we can relax in something like Ravel's dreamier excesses  but it's never for long and, always likely to be impressed by such a thing as I am, whether it is in Buxtehude or James MacMillan, he puts a lone, high register violin line in before stretching the canvas to something overpoweringly enormous.
It is still not the Szymanowski I thought I was buying and I'm beginning to wonder what it was that formed such an impression but, rather than being somewhat less than I'd hoped for, the Stabat Mater and Litany at least are something more.
I might have to reserve judgement on the Symphony as the term itself, especially when 'choral' parts are involved, has tended to lead composers into excess and this might be a case in point but, given the extraordinary first two pieces that will have to be returned to for some time, it will be a decision that eventually makes itself whether one stays for the extravagant finale.
Enough can be enough, as Theresa May recently said, somewhat inappropriately.       

Waiting for Arundhati

The reading programme, which is of course no such thing, goes into the low key mode of returning to Elizabeth Bishop's genial letters while we await the arrival of the new Arundhati Roy novel, which I await with some trepidation although it is an essential item to at least try.
Twenty years ago, The God of Small Things was a major event. I was enormously confident of its Booker Prize potential and, having previously insisted that some hapless clerk in Ladbrokes find me a price about The Remains of the Day, I decided it was the next literary dead cert with which to unload cash from the bookmakers. The only thing that prevented me was that it seemed such an obvious prizewinner that I thought the judges might perversely award it to something else so another good thing got away.
But twenty years is a long time and more than enough for both Arundhati and I to have changed, not necessarily in the same direction, and so I don't know what to expect but it is not an option to not pick it up as soon as it arrives and find out.

Meanwhile, I have been enjoying Hereward by Victor Head (Alan Sutton Publishing), an illuminating account of the last Saxon resistance to William the Conqueror post 1066, where we are re-acquainted with all those warlords, Harold Hardrada and Tostig, a re-evaluation of St. Edward the Confessor and Harold, whose side I always thought we were supposed to be on.
For all that we know so little about Hereward the Wake, who was named after a steam train I used to watch as a small boy in Nottingham going under the bridge near our house, all grime, muck and smoke but heroic, it is surprising what a picture can be reconstructed from the writings of those who wrote things down in the C11th, including Florence of Worcester.
Quiz question for future use, What was unusual about Florence of Worcester and Julian of Norwich. Florence was a bloke and Julian was a lady.
But Hereward, a boisterous boy who has his own 'lost years', probably abroad learning the craft of slashing and slaying, did all his resisting and marauding in the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire, determined to offer a last bastion against Norman culture, the enrichment of the English language and, presumably, all that fancy cuisine.
What a guy. A serendipitous find in a Cirencester charity shop, these interludes in the real reading list are by no means any less rewarding than the proper business.