MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




AmazonUK AmazonUS

MUSICAL HEROES: a personal view of music and the musical world over sixty years, by ROBERT PONSONBY.
Giles de la Mare Publishers Limited, 2009; xi, 196pp.; ISBN 978-1-900357-29-6. £14.99 (paperback).
Experience Classicsonline

Robert Ponsonby is perhaps best known as the BBC’s Controller, Music, a post he occupied for thirteen years, succeeding William Glock in 1972 and being succeeded by John Drummond in 1985. But he also worked as an administrator for Glyndebourne, the Edinburgh Festival, the Scottish National Orchestra and (after leaving the BBC) as director of the Canterbury Festival. Subsequently, his skills have been at the disposal of such bodies as the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, the Purcell School, the Council for Music in Hospitals, the Michael Tippett Musical Foundation and as a voluntary guide at the Handel House Museum.

This book is ‘a distillation of his experiences, achievements and friendships’ from sixty years at the centre of British musical life. It is compiled mainly from his writings over the years, in such publications as The Times, Guardian, Independent, and the much-missed Listener. Many of the portraits of personalities are in fact obituaries, but far from being solemn obsequies, they are affectionate reminiscences of their subjects, really putting flesh on the bare bones and vividly bringing them to life, with glimpses of aspects of their personalities that may not be apparent in their public personas.

We also learn, inter alia, much about Robert Ponsonby himself - ‘that lang boogger’, as he is affectionately known by his country neighbours in Cumbria. His height (at least 6'4", I should think), studious appearance, sonorous voice and quiet demeanour had certainly led me to imagine him as rather remote and unapproachable - although I did once have a surprisingly warm and friendly telephone conversation with him. The antithesis of his colleague John Drummond, he is nevertheless quietly penetrating, emotional and generously admiring of real artistry, but not afraid where necessary to speak his mind in a critical way, particularly of politicians (‘they set a wretched example’) and the ‘thick seam of philistinism in our national psyche’.

Those pieces that have appeared elsewhere (perhaps the majority, though several are unattributed and undated) do not appear to have been updated for this new collection, and one may wonder whether Ponsonby’s views have changed over the years. But an attempt at revision would I suspect rob the writing of the spontaneity - written in the heat of the moment - that in many ways makes it such a fascinating read, and a snapshot of particular moments in time. The profiles are arranged under broad categories such as ‘Conductors’ (14), ‘Composers’ (8), ‘Performers’ (10), ‘Administrators’ (7), ‘Friends’ (5). Then there is a section of more personal reminiscence called ‘Miscellany’, in which items from The Listener, and also The Oldie, are reproduced.

Some of the choices of subjects are predictable (but none the worse for that), some surprising. Adrian Boult was a friend and contemporary of Ponsonby’s father, Noel Ponsonby, organist of Christ Church (Boult’s college), Oxford, so Robert ‘grew up with an instinctive regard for him’; Glock, Drummond, Sidonie Goossens and others were BBC colleagues; Hans Gál, Robin Orr and Iain Hamilton from Edinburgh days; fellow administrators such as Ian Hunter and Moran Caplat; friends such as Tom Armstrong and Ursula Vaughan Williams (‘not quite eccentric, but distinctly original’). Of Robert Mayer he says, ‘I was tickled to know someone who had been hugged by Brahms’! And although there is no separate portrait of Janet Baker (who writes the foreword), like l’Arlésienne she seems to be a constant presence in so many of the stories, as she was in Ponsonby’s professional life.

But among these Musical Heroes, some assume truly heroic proportions: Pierre Boulez and Michael Tippett in particular. Tippett ‘was, of all my musician-friends, the most infectiously and mischievously life-enhancing’. As for Boulez, we are treated to a transcript of the complete conversation Ponsonby had with him from which sections were taken for the BBC World Service series, ‘The Mysterious Art of the Conductor’ (1981). There are eighteen wonderful pages of it, full of insight into Boulez himself and music (and its performance) in particular. This is something I, and many others, I am sure, will read again and again.

The book ends with a Retrospect, dated January 2009, which is also a summing up of the progress of musical life in Britain over the sixty years covered by the book, as well as thoughts on the current situation and music’s future prospects. Here he attacks politicians - and indeed also the BBC - for their attitude to music and musicians: ‘There is, I fear, a chronic malaise’. ‘Music, because it speaks an international language, is surely a vital ingredient in good cultural relations between states, witness Daniel Barenboim’s amazing West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’. Other countries value their musical heritage, they have statues of their composers, name concert halls, museums and conservatoires after them. ‘As to our conductors and soloists, such memorials as exist are apologetically insignificant, and our greatest conductor [Beecham], buried in a country cemetery next to Delius, has no public memorial at all’.

Robert Ponsonby’s Retrospect, and the book, ends: ‘Music, and of course I mean “classical” music, because it is both the most mysterious, and the most moving and the most difficult of the arts, is without doubt the greatest of them, and musicians therefore have a specially honourable responsibility. They are, by and large, an extraordinarily nice lot, intelligent, interesting, companionable, and I am unshakeably on their side. They have my profound respect, my wholehearted good wishes - and my affection.’

Garry Humphreys


Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.