Being quarantined with a two-year-old has been, shall we say, challenging. As a result, all my musical recommendations are going to follow a certain theme: escapism. If the world around you is driving you bonkers, why not escape to another world for a little while?
One of my favourite new works recently has been Joby Talbot’s delightful and clever ballet Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, brilliantly orchestrated and conducted by Christopher Austin and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a great recording out on Signum Classics. There’s plenty of delicious orchestral ear candy here, but what keeps me coming back is the beautiful melody in ‘The Flower Garden’. Melody is so underused these days, especially great, catchy melodies. I’m glad Joby Talbot is out there doing something about it!
Another favourite of mine recently has been Ravel’s opera L’enfant et Les Sortilèges. Again, it’s a nice fantastical journey to another world, filled with delightful orchestral and harmonic trickery. There’s so much for composers to learn by listening to this, and I hope to someday see it staged (although that’s quite a challenge). My favourite recording is on Deutsche Grammophon, conducted by Lorin Maazel with the participation of one of my favourite children’s choirs, La Maitrise de Radio France.
And finally, I’m a fan of big epic operas, and so Puccini’s Turandot has found a permanent place in my car CD player. Of course, you have to go with a Pavarotti recording… for me the Joan Sutherland/Pavarotti recording with Zubin Mehta and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (released by Decca) is the one. It also makes me long for the days when we made more studio recordings of operas.
When I’m not listening to music, I’m still all about escapism. My wife and I have recently been rewatching the entirety of Game of Thrones for the fourth time. Yes, we’re both nutty about the show, and we’re finally about to watch the eighth and final season for the first time. How we managed to escape seeing spoilers for an entire year was a triumph of ignoring social media! We’ll be dressing our little family up as Game of Thrones characters next Halloween. Our two-year-old will be Tyrion Lannister; my wife will be a Septa (aka a ‘shame nun’… a role she was born to play); and I’ll probably be a man of Night’s Watch. I have the hair for it, after all.
And on the literary front, I’m deep into fantasy reading, specifically Arthuriana. There’s something that I find very resonant about the tales of King Arthur’s attempts to impose order and civilisation on early Britain. In our current times of civic unrest and polarised media, I long for a time when people followed a chivalric code of courtesy and great leaders did great things to unite people against common enemies.
My favourite reads during lockdown have been TH White’s The Once and Future King and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. The former in particular is a thought-provoking treatise on the qualities of leadership; the latter a really clever re-imagining of Arthurian lore set in a world where Christianity and paganism are competing for the soul of a new country. Also thought provoking, but more than anything else, just fun to read.