A treasure trove of the world's greatest music for the past 10 years

Fri, May 1, 2009, 01:00

Clever programming and fine presenters have ensured Lyric FM has flourished, writes EILEEN BATTERSBY

SOME THINGS are so good, so instinctive, so democratic that they succeed in overcoming everything, even woes such as bad government, poor management, global recession, the Irish weather.

One such wonder is RTÉ Lyric FM which celebrates its 10th birthday today. While we now all know that there was no such thing as the Celtic Tiger – it was a mythical beast invented by the Fianna Fáil press office – one entity that came to life during the so-called glory days is Lyric FM.

Cynics decided a classical music station could never survive in Boomsville Ireland. How wrong they were. Lyric has more than survived, it has flourished with style, acquiring confidence and authority thanks to several of the finest, most natural broadcasters RTÉ has ever acquired, such as Niall Carroll, Tim Thurston, Donald Helme, Paul Herriott, Trish Taylor and Lorcan Murray. The programming is clever in that it offers a range of music including traditional, world music, jazz, musicals and that often overlooked genre, the film score.

Above all, of course, Lyric FM can draw on more than 600 years of the greatest music ever composed, from early medieval chant, through to the glories of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, to Romanticism, the golden age of opera and on to Modernism and contemporary composers such as Arvo Pärt.

That incredibly diverse treasure trove is the station’s greatest resource and the Lyric FM team know how to present it in a way that is informal but also informed. Not only has he quelled the road rage threatening the Irish motorist, Niall Carroll, the best speaking voice on Irish radio, through his relaxed, unforced and always entertaining Classic Drivehas opened new territory to commuters who may not have previously even attended a concert of classical music.

Jazz Alleypresenter Donald Helme is the definitive guru for fans of Miles Davis and co. Helme’s knowledge of his specialist field is so extensive that the listener is seduced into a web of pleasure while also learning a vast amount. The same must be said of the great Tim Thurston whose Sunday morning programme Gloriaexplores the surreal beauty of sacred music across the centuries.

Paul Herriott is doing for In Tempoeach morning, which includes the always excellent Coffee Concert, what he succeeded so brilliantly with his late night, The Blue of the Night, which could often balance Bach, Beethoven and Brükner with Thelonious Monk or Leonard Cohen. Trish Taylor’s Lyric Breakfastis the only way to greet the day in recession Ireland – with the emphasis on music not news.

The Lyric Concert, broadcast each weekday evening, features the best of European symphony orchestras as well as the National Symphony Orchestra in performance, while Opera Nightmakes it possible for Irish listeners to keep up to date with the New York opera scene. Lyric offers interesting arts documentaries and feature programmes on the lives of composers. Currently, pianist Úna Hunt is presenting a six-part Lyric Feature series exploring Thomas Moore’s complete Irish Melodies. Earlier this week Donald Helme presented a 90-minute Jazz Alleyfeature marking the 110th anniversary of Duke Ellington’s birth.

George Hamilton’s good-natured Hamilton Scoresmay tell you everything you never realised you wanted to know about his travels, yet his enthusiastic approach captures the exuberance of the music he selects, be it Puccini or Tchaikovsky or Brahms. The voices of Emma Kirkby, Thomas Hampson, Bryn Terfel, Andreas Scholl and of course Maria Callas are well represented on the station which serves music and us, the listener.

Happy Birthday Lyric FM.