John Wilson, the ever-alert BBC presenter who was with me in China the other week, was so impressed by the confluence of civilisations that he came home with three half-hour Front Row shows, the first of which went out last Wednesday.
His industriousness and versatility were astonishing. John not only interviewed, narrated and recorded his material, he edited and produced all three programmes on the road – the kind of herculean effort that normally requires a team of three. Even if I had the technical know-how, BBC Radio 3 would never let me produce my next series, as well as presenting it this summer. It takes a very particular blend of skills to carry off both roles, and not everyone who attempts it does so to best advantage.
The instance it called to mind was the new Beethoven concerto cycle by Mikhail Pletnev in which the conductor is none other than Christian Gansch who is also Pletnev’s regular DG producer. Gansch, no slouch, is a former concetmaster of the Munich Philharmonic who took up conducting when the revered Sergiu Celibidache died. He makes, on the evidence of this record, a pretty good fist of conducting – which is to say he keeps the orchestra under tight rein while Pletnev teases him and it with dangerously delayed entires and angular phrasing.
It must be great for a soloist to know that his producer has his boot on the neck of the band, but for the listener it’s not that inspiring. A more independent maestro would have challenged the soloist to justify his waywardness and elicited a stronger performance.
I had to look twice at the sleeve to make sure Gansch was not producing on this occasion as well as conducting. Officially he as not, though I am sure he spent as much time in the control room as on the rostrum. Fortunately DG, unlike the BBC, can afford to attach an executive producer (Matthias Spindler) and a recording producer (Rainer Mallard) as well as a balance engineer, recording engineer and balance technician to what was, in effect, a live performance at the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, last September. No shortage of hands in this broth.
And you wonder why the classical record economy has collapsed…