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Asa Briggs, 12 March 1992

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Engineering Knight-Errant 
by Adrian Vaughan.
Murray, 285 pp., £19.95, October 1991, 0 7195 4636 2
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... became generally available after 1972, called him ‘the greatest of England’s engineers’. Vaughan, who has written many books on railways, does not question Brunel’s genius, yet he accuses Rolt of the same fault that Rolt had found in Smiles’s life of Telford – that of being too adulatory. Rolt did not believe that the Smiles life was a ‘true ...

What’s Happening in the Engine-Room

Penelope Fitzgerald: Poor John Lehmann, 7 January 1999

John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure 
by Adrian Wright.
Duckworth, 308 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 7156 2871 2
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... James, the always reliable butler, deals with that, the illusion of a dedication to poetry. Adrian Wright, in this new biography, refers several times to Lehmann’s half-commitment (in spite of his energy) to the professional life he chose. Fieldhead was the magic enclosure to which, as an adult, he looked back, wishing that it might have been possible ...

Topping Entertainment

Frank Kermode: Britten, 28 January 2010

Journeying Boy: The Diaries of the Young Benjamin Britten 
edited by John Evans.
Faber, 576 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 571 23883 5
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... to which the privacy of the diary permitted strong expression. Conductors were vulnerable, Sir Adrian Boult being a favourite target: ‘terrible execrable conductor’; ‘Orchestra bad all evening; Boult worse’; ‘disgraceful perf. under A. Boult’; ‘Boult as slow, dull & ignorant as is his wont’ and so on, until we discover with surprise that ...

Ten Days that Shook Me

Alan Bennett, 15 September 1988

... writes for Boxing News), the poet Craig Raine (who doesn’t) and the playwright Sue Townsend of Adrian Mole fame. I had many misgivings about the trip, particularly in regard to creature comforts. I wondered, for instance, if the Russians had got round to mineral water. John Sturrock reassured me. ‘Haven’t you heard of Perrierstroika?’ The ...

Heat in a Mild Climate

James Wood: Baron Britain of Aldeburgh, 19 December 2013

Benjamin Britten: A Life in the 20th Century 
by Paul Kildea.
Allen Lane, 635 pp., £30, January 2013, 978 1 84614 232 1
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Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music 
by Neil Powell.
Hutchinson, 512 pp., £25, January 2013, 978 0 09 193123 0
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... later, ‘a consciously controlled professional technique. It was a struggle away from everything Vaughan Williams seemed to stand for.’ Vaughan Williams taught composition at the RCM, but Britten bypassed him anyway. Since the age of 14 he had been having lessons with Frank Bridge; his mother would take him to London in ...

Górecki’s Millions

David Drew, 6 October 1994

... Jacks were unfurled in the national press, while recollections of the happy times of Elgar and Vaughan Williams encouraged proposals that after Sir Michael Tippett, the next candidate for composer-laureate and international standard-bearer should be Tavener. As soon as a young or not-so-young composer in the post-Górecki era has been convincingly reified ...

Last Night Fever

David Cannadine: The Proms, 6 September 2007

... the London Symphony Orchestras, and as Wood himself began to share the heavy conducting load with Adrian Boult and Basil Cameron. Boult and Cameron (along with Constant Lambert) conducted the Proms in the 1945 season, including the final concert, but this was an occasion which neither enjoyed, as they were ‘pelted with flowers’ by the audience. Nor were ...

Britten when young

Frank Kermode, 29 August 1991

Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten Vol. I 1923-39, Vol. II 1939-45 
edited by Donald Mitchell and Philip Reed.
Faber, 1403 pp., £75, June 1991, 9780571152216
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... of the reviews. Performers at concerts get scrupulous mini-biographies. Britten spoke sourly of Adrian Boult; the question why he did so is understandably gone into, since Boult had a good record with modern music and even gave some acceptable performances of Britten’s, but it seems that Britten thought Boult had the job that ought to have gone to his ...

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