Alan Howard Reads

There is more to Alan Howard Reads (Radio 4) than that title suggests. True, each afternoon this week the actor is reading a series of short stories written to mark his 70th birthday. But what he actually does is inhabit the realm of each tale with his extraordinary voice, a muscle flexed in different directions for the various writers.

Yesterday's story, written by Helen Simpson, featured an academic reeling from the end of a love affair polluted, largely and amusingly, by his girlfriend's over-zealous concern for the environment. Howard's delivery emphasised the rush of words from a mind adept at processing dense swathes of information and stirred more by Schubert than the prosaic realities of life.

Earlier in the week, Tom Stoppard had some fun with Matthew Arnold, read by Howard as a bouncy debate about Arnold's critical standing. But most affecting so far was Julian Barnes's contribution, a lyrical story about loss. In this reading, Howard's voice took on a rich new set of cadences and captured the inevitable impulse of the newly bereaved to look back. Tenderly written and even more tenderly read, this story was full of shimmering images and emotions. Roll on the final two stories.

Elisabeth Mahoney

The Guardian, 18.10.07