The New Year is the signal for a bit of meme time around here. I like the meme – it’s a socially sanctioned excuse for theft. I stole this idea from a post on Becca’s Blog a year ago. So, what was my 2011 like, in various things?
Top 3 books
It was a pretty decent reading year. One book stands out among all the others, and that is Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, which I began reading on holiday, sitting in Cologne Cathedral while I waited for an organ recital by Martin Baker to begin, and finished back in the UK. An utterly engrossing, lovable book. Perhaps I should investigate the family saga further in 2012. John Cheever’s Falconer was another highlight – a short novel about a university professor coping with life in prison. Like nothing I’ve read before, and Cheever is a writer with a magnificent eye for detail. On an arguably less exalted level – but no less wonderful – are Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street books, all seven of which I devoured in the space of a few months in the middle of the year. His humanity and tolerance are infectious.
Top 3 CDs
Of the year’s new releases, I listened to The Prince Consort’s recording of Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer and Stephen Hough’s Other Love Songs a lot. I was fortunate to be at the premiere of the Hough in the summer, and it is a work I have grown to love. Simon Standage’s Mozart violin concerti with the Academy of Ancient Music and Christopher Hogwood have reminded me of the beauty of this music. I also found Christian Bruhn’s Timm Thaler soundtrack tremendous fun.
Top 3 films
I watched a titanic number of films last year (not Titanic; I am not mad). I rarely feel in the mood for watching Bergman, but I found it was his films that impressed me most of all. A genius. The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, but most of all Winter Light. I’ve been watching Fanny and Alexander over the New Year, for the first time in about ten years, and am enjoying being dazzled by it anew. Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp struck me as a great masterpiece, Roger Livesey and Anton Walbrook both quite irresistible, and I’m delighted to hear that there is a new print being released in cinemas in a few months’ time. And I might name any of several others as my third film, but for the sake of variety let’s say Before Sunrise, which is a lovely film if you’re of a romantic disposition. (I saw a handful of brilliant new films at the cinema too, so for an alternative three try The King’s Speech, The Guard and Tomboy.)
Top 3 live music
It was a thrill seeing Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production of Parsifal at ENO in February. It’s only recently that I’ve started going to see Wagner live, and Parsifal is perhaps my favourite opera. John Tomlinson was a superb Gurnemanz, and I marvelled at the economy of the scoring. It exposes as misguided the popular conception of Wagner as sprawling and overblown. Love Stephen Hough at the Wigmore though I did, I think Marc-André Hamelin provided my piano recital of the year at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, playing Haydn, Schumann, Wolpe, Debussy and, as his barnstorming finale, Liszt’s Reminiscences de Norma in the composer’s bicentenary year. And last of all, Pulp at Wireless. Jarvis has still got it.
Top 3 theatre
I’m including musicals and comedy, so there’s only one echt play, and even that’s not particularly echt – namely Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, which I saw just before Christmas. A breathtaking thing to behold, and quite the most I’ve enjoyed myself in any theatre, perhaps anywhere ever. A rollercoaster, and wrong to single out individual performances in a production so delicious in every aspect (not least its superb music), but I must say I thought Oliver Chris particularly wonderful, funnier than I’ve ever known him before, not to mention James Corden, Tom Edden, Trevor Laird, Daniel Rigby, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum. My trip to Chichester to see the new production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd was a great treat, the cast superb (in spite of some doubts about Michael Ball), and I will make a point of revisiting it in London this year. And thirdly, Jonny Sweet’s lovely solo show, Let’s All Just Have Some Fun (and Learn Something, for Once), which I saw at the Soho Theatre in January. He stands at the front giving the audience bear hugs as they come in; one cannot but love the man.
Lastly, I must add another happy discovery, which has been on the periphery of my consciousness for a while but which I only began to pay attention to this year, John Finnemore’s radio sitcom Cabin Pressure. I think its central cast of four – Finnemore, Benedict Cumberbatch, Roger Allam and Stephanie Cole – must be just about the strongest and most likeable since Rising Damp. A fourth series has just been commissioned. There is no end to Finnemore’s talents, apparently. He also wrote an excellent sketch show for Radio 4, and drew a picture a day on his blog, Forget What Did, as a sort of Advent calendar last month. You owe it to yourself to have a look.
Here’s hoping 2012 is similarly happy, for me and for all of you!