Desert Island discs

In a variation on a theme, John Russell picks his eight choices.

Desert Island Discs is one of the BBCs’ longest running programmes. Who hasn’t fantasised about being interviewed by Roy Plumley or Sue Lawley and which eight records they would choose to remember?

Rather than eight single discs I prefer to confine my selection to eight full CDs but even so the problem is which discs to omit.

MYSTERIUM – Angela Gheoghiu

Choice number one has to the greatest disc ever made.A few years ago my son opened his Christmas present only to be taken aback when it included a ticket to see Angela Gheoghiu five months hence at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. “Who” he exclaimed. “Trust me,” I responded, “you will not be disappointed.”

Come the day we weren’t. We had a seat on the ledge directly over where she entered the stage. She came on wearing a startling red dress and marched purposefully towards centre stage. She took a look straight out towards the back of the auditorium and satisfied herself that all seats had been sold, turned back to look towards the conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (making a rare visit north of Watford) and in an instant began to sing. Apart from a change of dress she repeated the walk and nod in the second half. Then she treated us to encore after encore. You clap, she sings.

I have seen Gheorghiu several times since, or not seen her as the case may be as she has a reputation for not turning up if she feels she is not going to give her best. But who can forget the Royal Festival Hall recital where a crowd headed towards the exit because they thought she had finished, only for her to torment the early leavers by causing them to stay behind while she performed eight encores as they shuffled about waiting to be let out?

It would have been possible to include any one of a dozen Gheorghiu discs but this one takes the cake by virtue of the first track. The Lords Prayer sung in Romanian, recorded with feeling, like the entire disc, only a few weeks after her sister had died.

THE ATOMIC MR BASIE: I have seen the Count Basie Band several times. Likewise Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Ted Heath and Jazz at the Philharmonic; big bands and jazz, all of whom might have justified selection but for superb playing and sheer controlled ‘noise’ Basie wins easily His own nonchalant piano playing coupled with his equally nonchalant conducting ensures second place in the list.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG plays WC HANDY: When it comes to hearing a trumpeter playing live, Bill Chase from the Woody Herman band, who famously blew the pigeons out of their roosts in Birmingham Town Hall, would get the nomination but when it comes to sheer perfection nothing beats Satchmo. He also gets the nod against all those other talented musicians heard in JATP

Eleven tunes replicate the legendry WC Handy. The seventh is a reminder of the many years when I used to cycle to work via the short Beale Street. Birmingham rather than >emphis, but invariably singing the song as I pedalled along. It’s also worth noting that the Louis Armstrong museum is situated within the shadow of Citi Field, home of my favourite New York Mets

THE CONCERT – Frank Sinatra: He has to be included, as could any one of two dozens of his discs. But this relatively short eight song offering is sheer perfection, not least because of his diction. I regret never having seen Frank perform live, unknowingly missing out on the only opportunity which came my way.

BENNY GOODMAN AT CARNEGIE HALL: I’m not quite sure how I began the tradition but every time it comes to decorating a room I play this disc while I yield the paste brush. I guess it’s something to do with the length of the concert and the ease of changing over the four sides for continuity. And actually going to Carnegie Hall to hear Andre Previn (another candidate who just missed out on inclusion) now adds a little panache to the disc.

RACHMANINOV PIANO CONCERTO no.2 – Vladimir Ashkenazy: Actually Andre Previn sneaks in by virtue of being the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra on this disc, but such is their talent that Ashkenazy could easily have been conducting while Previn played. Like many I came to classical music late on but in doing so had the advantage of hearing numerous orchestras in one of the finest concert halls in the world, Symphony Hall. My attendance has only waned in recent years by virtue of an almost doubling of the cost of my regular seat (also known as the Gheorghiu seat – see above.)

Rach 2 has regularly been voted the greatest of all classical pieces on Classic FM and whom am I to dispute this choice? Whenever it appears in the listings in Radio Times it is guaranteed a highlighter pen and a listening. Sadly, my only live performance was ruined by Stephen Hough playing it faster than the conductor was conducting and he knocked two minutes off the standard playing time. It otherwise justified a journey to the Royal Festival Hall to hear it performed to the accompaniment of the film which might be said to have made it famous, or vice versa – the greatest film ever made, Brief Encounter. Surprisingly for some reason this amazing experience was only performed about five times by the orchestra at the RFH.

VIOLIN CONCERTOS – Joshua Bell: If anything rivals Rach 2 as my favourite classical pieces then they are the Bruch and Mendessohn violin concertos. And with all due respect to Leslie Jackson, leader of the CBSO, when it comes to violinists Joshua Bell comes first, chiefly because I have heard him live when he led/conducted his Academy of St Martins in the Fields at Symphony Hall. Sublime.

WANAMAKER ORGAN, PHILADELPHIA – Peter Conte: Some forty or so recitals in or near Shrewsbury now featuring frequently in my diary, not least because of the majestic Shulze organ at Ellesmere College which has been played three times annually by all the finest organists in the country. Added to which there is the old Wurlitzer cinema organ – a youthful reminder even if it is something of an acquired taste.

But, unless it is listening to the organ in the National Cathedral in Washington DC nothing can beat standing next to the eagle in Macy’s department store in Philadelphia at noon daily and hearing the biggest organ in the world. If Jonathan Scott ever gets an invitation to perform there I will do my best to be there to hear him.

Participants on Desert Island Discs are invited to select one to rescue from the waves, and in this case it has to be Gheorghiu.

They are also allowed the Bible, Shakespeare and a book of their own choice. Mine would be my own – A history of Aston Villa, if only to be certain it will come out in November as planned. Otherwise it would be the latest edition of Total Baseball.

As to the luxury – a tennis ball. For more years than I care to remember in my youth I always used to carry a tennis ball in my pocket. If possible, the one I have embossed US Open’, fielded outside the stadium in Flushing Meadows. You can have a lot of fun with a tennis ball.