Sunday, 25 November 2012

Voice of the day

Reading books for public consumption is one of the hardest disciplines there is. You might think it was a breeze, just reading words on a page. There are no lines to learn, no stage directions to memorise, no grandstanding actor, chewing the furniture or doing little bits of business to ruin your scene. It's just you, and a page, and a microphone. What could be more of a walk in the park?

In fact, reading well is so remarkably difficult that only about four humans and a dog can do it. The amount of beautifully-written books of the week I have had to turn off, because some exuberant actor is strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage, is beyond count. There is always the terrible danger of breathiness. Then there are the ghastly pauses in all the wrong places, or the misconstrued emphasis.

Worst of all, is the conviction of certain thespian readers that the text must be acted. This is the highest sin. Books, poetry especially, must be read flat. The reader gets out of the way and lets the words shine. Prose is an oddly delicate thing; the wrong tone of voice can slaughter a perfect paragraph.

All of which is a long way of saying really I would like to start a petition to draft Samuel West in to read Everything in The World. It should be a law; it should be inserted into the constitution. He has always read very well, but in this week's Radio Four version of Paddy Leigh-Fermor's memoirs, he has reached his crest and peak. The voice is light and pleasing, the tone even and rhythmic, the pronunciation filled with clarity, the ego entirely absent. He even goes at the exact right speed. It's so good that you may want to listen to each episode twice, for the full beauty to dawn.

It is such a rare talent, and one very much overlooked. Hardly anyone except me bangs on about the beauty of a lovely reading voice. But when one is found, I must hang out more flags.

If you have the iPlayer, you can listen here.

Sadly, it's only on for a couple more days. I wish the dear old BBC would let us have access to their programmes for longer than a week, but I suppose it's something to do with bandwidth or one of those technical things. The iPlayer is such a miracle, and so much better than anything even nearly comparable, that it seems churlish to cavil. But perhaps a fortnight....?

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