Ideas for combatting Lockdown

Jonathan Sacks’s new book Morality (Hodder & Stoughton £20.00), great in some respects but had JS written the Introduction ‘Cultural Climate Change’, which bemoans how by celebrating the narcissistic ‘I’ we’ve lost sight of the all-embracing ‘we’, during the current Coronavirus crisis I’ve a feeling his thesis would have been very different. Never have I witnessed such wholehearted concern for others and whatever you might think of Boris Johnson in political terms the sincerity of his gratitude to the NHS (who nursed him back to life from the brink of death) cannot be doubted. The book also addresses social media, human dignity, meaning, religion and other crucial aspects of our spritual life. Sacks’s work is never less than uplifting and this book is, in general, no exception.

The Routledge Handbook to Music under German Occupation, 1938-1945, Propaganda, Myth and Reality (Edited by David Fanning and Erik Levi, (Routledge, £190.00. Also available on Taylor & Francis eBooks)

Mega-bucks I know, maybe one to order from your local library. I’ve prepared a full review for a future edition of Gramophone so I shan’t duplicate what I’ve written there, save to say that there are surprises galore – both depressing and inspiring – that will extend what you know, and probably what you feel, about this shaded period in twentieth century musical history, whether it be the great Václav Talich conducting the Czech Phil in wartime Dresden and Berlin (thanks to the support of Goebbels), Callas rousing her audience as Beethoven’s Leonore in Occupied Athens, or the European premiere of Porgy and Bess in Occupied Copenhagen – the first performance in a run of 22 that thrilled audiences before the Nazis pulled the plug on it! A real page turner and well worth the price of what might, under different circumstances, have been a good family night out.

Beethoven the Complete String Quartets Beethoven Quartet (Melodiya MEL CD 1002587, eight cds. mid-price)

The Beethoven quartet is best known for its association with – and recordings of – Shostakovich’s Quartets. As to these recordings of their namesake’s cycle, I’d call it gritty, passionately expressive (some unforgettable slow movements), boldly assertive, sometimes impatient and aside from the odd patch of dodgy intonation, superbly played. The sound is occasionally rough-edged and the cello would have benefitted from a fairer recorded balance but in general this is a set to relish, an uncompromising confrontation with some of the greatest music ever composed.


If you want to see your nutty podcaster in full flight (delivering from his Steptoe-style front room) access robcowanmusic YouTube and Gramophone Magazine YouTube. You might find them interesting.

… and don’t forget Cowan’s Classics on Saturdays, 7-9pm when hopefully you’ll encounter a happy blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Tommy Pearson’s podcasts are well worth hearing. You can hear me holding forth on the one dealing with conductors

All episodes should be here on Podbean:

8 thoughts on “Ideas for combatting Lockdown

  1. Robert Roy

    Hi Rob. I saw those Beethoven Quartet discs advertised and did wonder about acquiring them. Amazing to think they worked so closely with DSCH!

    Although I’m still working, I’ve developed a real thing for Beethoven Ninth Symphony! I’m amazed how many recordings I have of it and am listening to one a day. (I can’t really manage it more often than that!)

    The different approaches are incredible.

    Take care.


    1. You take care too Rob. Try and listen to Kubelík with the Bavarian RSO if you can (either DG or Orfeo). He makes you realise just how modern-sounding the piece still is. Best. Rob.


  2. Tully Potter

    Thanks, Rob.

    I’ve got the Beethoven quartets on order. My memory of them is that Op. 127 is the best, and that, like the Taneyev, they don’t really nail the Cavatina, though they are better than the Taneyev whose version I haven’t kept.

    On Johnson, see my Facebook page for my feelings.

    All the best,




  3. Lawrence Letts

    Thanks. I enjoy, as always, reading your comments.

    Beethoven’s string quartets seem to have done quite well as far as recordings go. I have limited knowledge of the historic performances, apart from the Busches, so should explore other groups. Recording balance is very important, however old the recording. I am really impressed by several younger quartets that I have heard live, such as the Quatuor Ebene, the Cuarteto Casals, the Belcea Quartet and the Kuss Quartet. They seem not only energetic and technically outstanding, but also bring out nicely the sly wit that I believe is sometimes present in this music.

    The lockdown is an opportunity to tackle ‘big’ books, but ‘in between’ I find reading PG Wodehouse still does wonders for lifting the spirits.

    Best wishes and keep well.


    1. Thanks so much Lawrence. Have heard all those sets of the Quartets, the Kuss most recently, which I was impressed with. The ‘big’ book that I’m currently tackling is a marvellous biog of Susan Sontag (Benjamin Moser, pub. Allen Lane) a bit of a hero of mine. Best wishes and you keep well (and safe) too. Rob


  4. Lawrence Letts


    I happened to click just now on your little photo above and see that it is your birthday today. Very best wishes and I hope that you find a nice way to celebrate.



    1. Many thanks Lawrence. Have kept in touch with family albeit via Zoom. It’s been a nice day and numerous online greetings (including yours of course) have meant a lot. Best. Rob


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