Clarke’s Classics (John Clarke)
Rating: 5 / 5
Australia’s favourite Kiwi, satirist and actor John Clarke departed this world before his fans were ready to let him go. But he has left a fine legacy in this three-CD set released by ABC Classics.
In 2016 Clarke was a guest presenter one Saturday morning on ABC Classic FM, where he entertained listeners for three hours playing his favourite classical music with commentary in that inimical dry and witty Clarke style. And while we no longer have Clarke himself, we have this precious three hours of him sharing himself and his music with us.
Best known for his Kiwi character Fred Dagg, his signature comedy series The Games and his Clarke and Dawe political commentaries with comedy partner Brian Dawe, Clarke’s sudden death at the age of 68 while bushwalking in Victoria’s Grampians on April 9 this year caused an outpouring of grief and tributes across a wide stratum of society.
While Clarke maintained he didn’t know much about classical music, he was full of interesting tidbits about his favourite composers, ranging from Beethoven to Schubert to Satie, and many others in between. At the beginning of his broadcast he said he was going to play music he didn’t know a great deal about, but which he had listened to at some time in his life, and he planned to explain to us why he liked it.
After kicking off with Liszt’s catchy ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’, Clarke hit his straps with the most famous classical male duet of all, ‘In the Depths of the Temple’, which he described as, “These two guys get together and they talk about a woman they knew years ago…and they congratulate themselves on being two blokes”, then simply went back to announcing the beautiful duet as, “That was two blokes singing, by Bizet”.
When chatting about Schubert’s famous song ‘Ave Maria’, Clarke simply says, “This thing is just gorgeous”, before slipping in—in his usual self-deprecating manner—that he is only on air today because everyone else is sick.
Along the way he shares that Puccini’s popular ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (‘O My Beloved Father’) is close to his heart because he first heard it when his mother sang it around the house, after taking singing lessons when Clarke and his siblings were teenagers.
Later in the program Clarke tells us that he is here with Brahms—“What are we playing next, Brahms? Hungarian Dance? Sure, OK, what number? Five? Yeah, go for it!”
By the end of the program, Clarke is ready to go out with a flourish, with Widor’s ‘Toccata’, played on a huge pipe organ, introduced by Clarke barking, “You might need to shift those chairs back…shift further back…righto!” Clarke was the absolute opposite of a stuffy classical music expert—his comedic style and love of classical music, along with quirky stories about the composers and pieces, make this CD collection a delight.
Australia lost a huge talent when John Clarke died. This release is a true celebration of the man and the music he loved.