After weeks of notably wayward 'weather forecasts', it was good to hear this morning that the notorious Met Office has lost its BBC contract after 93 long years. This was clearly not the wish of the BBC but, for some crazy reason, the Corporation finds itself obliged these days to get the best value for the licence-payers' money. Let's hope the dumping of the Met Office ushers in an era of better, more accurate forecasting. Alas, it probably won't mean that we've seen the last of those 'personality' forecasters, as they'll be free to negotiate contracts with the new providers. So we can expect the insufferable Tomasz Schafernaker to come bouncing back...
Meanwhile, in the continuing absence of The Dabbler (though there are hopeful signs of life), let's have a little Sunday music.
Like everybody [?], I devote a good deal of futile thought to my eight Desert Island Discs (you never know when you might find yourself stranded with nothing but a wind-up gramophone, your eight favourite platters, the Bible, Shakespeare and a book of your choice). The music list keeps changing - indeed never settles down to a final eight - but one piece I thought would be a permanent fixture was Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, music that is both intensely beautiful and intensely English. However, lately I've been drawn more and more to the equally beautiful, equally English Serenade to Music.
This setting of a famous passage from Act V of The Merchant of Venice ('How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank...'), for orchestra, chorus and 16 soloists - four sopranos, four contraltos, four tenors, two baritones and two basses - is, for obvious reasons, less often performed and recorded than many of RVW's other masterpieces. It was composed as a tribute to Sir Henry Wood, who conducted the first performance, at the Royal Albert Hall on 5 October 1938. Sergei Rachmaninov, who had performed his Second Piano Concerto in the first half of the concert, settled in a box to enjoy the rest of the evening. At the end of the Serenade, he was found in tears, overcome by the beauty of the music. And no wonder.
Wood also made the first recording of the piece, with the same soloists, and, rather wonderfully, we can still hear it today, just as Vaughan Williams intended it, and (allowing for sound quality) as Rachmaninov would have heard it. Follow this link (and be sure to turn off when the Serenade ends or you might find yourself confronted with the grinning visage of Alan Titchmarsh).