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November 2017

Desert Island Discs - It's Perfectly Legal

Suzanne Pinkerton

Armed with my trusty notebook and pen - which seems to write in a interesting turquoise shade -  I set out to pass on to you a musical picture of Jonathan Mance, a Law Lord and Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.  He is also a Lord Justice of Appeal, and a member of the Privy Council.  And, much to any feminist's delight, the lady who started out as Mrs Mance is now Dame Mary Arden, Lady Justice of Appeal, and they are the first married couple ever to serve concurrently in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal.  Bravo!

As I am not well-versed in the Law, though I've been a Juror twice and loved it, I will concentrate on the eleven discs Jonathan was allowed to choose, and tell you why he chose them, thus hopefully painting a portrait of his personality.

I'm sure I can safely say, and not only speaking for myself, that the pool of music is so wide and deep it could be that nobody in quite a large group of people would choose the same group of pieces.

No 1: Mozart Piano concerto No 21 KV 467 3rd Movement. This dates back to listening to Mozart Piano concertos with some of the other boys at the home of his History teacher and he's loved them ever since.  Notable Mozart experient, Murray Perahia was playing.

No 2: Brahms Piano Concerto No 2 played with the Vienna Philharmonic, that orchestra, until so recently, so determinedly opposed to women players, by Wilhelm Backhaus, a great 20th century pianist, continuing Jonathan's love for piano.

No 3: I've got an awful confession to make. I don't think I've ever heard "Yesterday" by the Beatles!  But Jonathan had - and was working in Hamburg shortly after their success there.  And indirectly it was how he met his wife, so no wonder he put it in!

No 4: Now this may need a bit of Historical Background.  Kenneth KcKellar was a Scottish tenor who made a very good career singing Scottish songs, in a kilt.  At the RAM we have several  Scottish male singers and I've suggested, when the other men singers wear suits, it would be fun if the Scotsmen assumed the kilt.  One of them thinks it's a great idea!  I'm not sure the Powers Above would though!  As far as I know, the only instrument I've discovered the RAM does not teach is the bagpipes!  "Wi' a Hundred Pipers an' a' an' a' " might be just the song to inspire them! 

No 5:  Mister Magic on the saxophone. I understand Jonathan's weakness for the instrument, but I have a neighbour who plays his for up to 2 hours at a time, and you can have too much of a good thing. I haven't heard it in the Bahamas, like Jonathan did!

No 6: And NOW!  Jonathan hit on one of my favourite opera choruses - the great Prisoners' Chorus from Beethoven's Fidelio.  It shows how beautiful an all-male chorus can sound as the prisoners emerge from the dark, and once you've heard it, you never forget it.  Like me, Jonathan had trouble deciding between that, and the Slaves' chorus in Verdi's Nabucco - my favourite of all choruses.

No 7: Familiar with German literature and poetry Jonathan loves Mendelssohn. He chose Venezianisches Gondellied - Venice and gondolas having become part of German longing for the South.  I'd never heard it and could see why Jonathan might play it when writing a judgment.

No 8: Here Jonathan and I were very much in agreement.  We both enjoy the cello very much - and also love the baroque version and the viola da gamba.  But we stepped forward to the 19th century for Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo theme - but with piano, not orchestra.  Some of you may have heard Rafael Wallfisch play them with orchestra in the church in the Hampstead Arts Festival last year.  A real singalong - in your head!

No 9: I do respect that Birgit Nilsson and Wolfgang Windgassen were great Wagnerians of the 20th century, but either you are a Wagnerian or you aren't.  Jonathan is a Wagnerian.  I am not.  But by all means enjoy it, if that is for you.

No 10: Shostakovich String Quartet No 8. Not the easiest for a string quartet to play but he grows on you.  He has obviously grown on Jonathan and I can imagine the Middle Temple would have a great acoustic.

No 11: What a chorus writer Bach can be! Specially when he can really let go in the B Minor Mass. At the RAM  his entire output of cantatas is being performed - spread over more than 10 years.  I go from time to time when I know a soloist, and one has to remember Bach was a very busy church musician, who had to produce a piece every week, and they can become just a little bit alike, but "Et exspecto resurrectionem", swells in glory and hits the spot right on.  "I'll concentrate on the music" I said, and I was told I could, so I have.  I hope it has included some extra background as well!

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