BBC Music Magazine

Music to my ears

What the classical world has been listening to this month


Branford Marsalis saxophonis­t

I’m a proponent of the importance of geography in musical creativity. If you take operas by Wagner, Puccini and Saint-saëns, they all look similar at first glance because they all use the 12-note system. But of course they sound drasticall­y different. That’s the geographic­al effect. German music sounds German even when the German composer has been listening to Italian music. And German joy is different to French joy – in his Christmas Oratorio, Bach was able to create great joy in a different way, in an atmosphere that was at that time cold and austere.

Eric Revis, the bassist in my band, asked me recently whether I’d checked out Sinatra’s Only the Lonely. All of Sinatra’s songs were crooner songs in his younger years, but then he made this completely melancholy album. ★is favourite arranger, Nelson Riddle, had just endured the death of his wife and didn’t want to do it, but they talked him round. All of the music has this beautiful melancholy to it, and every song is about either loss or loneliness.


Listening has been revelatory recently, thanks to my regular teaching at the Royal College of Music bumping up against a Beethoven study day, a Clara Schumann festival and a talk on settings of the Persian poet Hafiz. Through the latter,

I’ve discovered the classical Iranian musician Anoosh Jahanshahi alongside Sally Beamish’s exquisite songs. But it’s Clara Schumann’s wonderful solo piano music that I’m enjoying at home, at my own piano!

Benny Goodman’s small-group jazz records are incredible because all those musicians, particular­ly Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman, were classicall­y trained so they understood the power of sound more than the power of data. They were able to play song after song after song and create completely different emotional context – in 1939 before it was even thought of.

And also…

My wife makes fun of me because I’m American, but I’m into all the royal stuff. Clearly in some life I was British because I identify with the language, the approach, the irony, the whole thing. Warts-andall films about queens or kings are rare, so what I love about The Favourite is that it is authentic Baroque, from the sexually suggestive dances to the incredible music. It’s really well done. The Branford Marsalis Quartet’s album ‘The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul’ is out now

Francesco Cilluffo conductor

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkaval­ier is like my vitamin C – I need it every morning. I have about 20 recordings, as it’s one of my favourite operas, but I like Karl Böhm’s recording with the Dresden Staatskape­lle Orchestra the best. In my opinion, none of the many available other recordings match Böhm’s perfect combinatio­n of driving rhythms and lyricism.

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut was premiered in Turin, my home town in Italy, so has always connected me to my roots. In Giuseppe Sinopoli’s recording of you can hear the influences of Wagner, Richard Strauss and Debussy in the music. No other conductor has been able to bring out those elements. Sinopoli has always been one of my great influences, because he was intellectu­al in his approach.

Something a bit different that I’ve been listening to is Poulenc’s

In his Christmas Oratorio, Bach was able to create great joy in a different way

Sept répons des ténèbres. Poulenc is a composer I’ve only recently learned to love. I conducted his opera La voix humaine last year, and before I perform a score I like to not only study the music itself, but everything about the composer. This is an incredibly moving, dark piece. I don’t generally think it’s necessaril­y the case that a French conductor can perform French music best, but in Georges Prêtre’s recording it might be the case, perhaps because Prêtre collaborat­ed so closely with Poulenc himself.

And also… I saw the Verroccio and Leonardo exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, which shows how Leonardo learnt from Verroccio and helped in his workshop. Even in his early work, you can see the hand of a genius learning his trade. Francesco Cilluffo conducts Verdi’s Falstaff at the Grange Festival from 7 June

John Lunn composer

Unfortunat­ely my father died recently; he was a massive jazz fan and I can remember the music he played in the house when I was about ten years old. One of the pieces I’ve gone back to is Duke Ellington’s

Ad Lib on Nippon from the album Far East Suite. I’m astounded by Ellington’s creativity – he starts with a piano and double bass and the harmonic structure of a blues, but then the band comes in and the whole thing really takes off. It’s like a piano concerto that he’s making up as he goes along.

I was watching Pawe Pawlikowsk­i’s fantastic film Cold War recently. At the end of it, a version of JS Bach’s Chorale Prelude ‘Ich ruf’ zu dir, ★err

Jesu Christ’ comes in, played by the pianist Alfred Brendel. It reminded me how powerful music is when you put it to picture and I was nearly in tears when it came in. I didn’t really know it; I could tell it was Bach and went away to find out. I’ve learned to play it myself and try and play it once every couple of days.

I’d forgotten about Scott Walker’s track ‘Boy Child’, which was played on the radio again the morning of this interview. When it came on I thought it was so good, and it sounded like it was recorded in the 1990s. I did a bit of research and, of course, it’s actually from 1970. It’s an extraordin­ary piece of music and he had an extraordin­ary career. I’ve always liked musicians who start off in one field and then move away – in Walker’s case, that meant doing so much avant-garde stuff after being a pop star.

And also…

I recently went to see the

Dorothea Tanning exhibition at the Tate. I love going to see art and even if I don’t quite understand it, there’s something about it that makes me think. I love being in a gallery, amid the solitude, the tranquilli­ty and peacefulne­ss; I find it almost church-like.

John Lunn’s music is featured in Downton Abbey Live at Highclere Castle on 22 June

 ??  ?? Master of melancholy: Sinatra’s Only the Lonely is a doleful delight
Master of melancholy: Sinatra’s Only the Lonely is a doleful delight
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 ??  ?? Ahead of his time: singer Scott Walker
Ahead of his time: singer Scott Walker
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