I love watching how Lockhart, official Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, scrupulously keeps in sync with not just his orchestra but with his soloist. It’s also a delight to watch at the beginning of the clip Lisitsa curtsying almost shyly to leader Cynthia Fleming.
Valentina Lisitsa, who started out as a YouTube sensation 12 years ago and is now counted as one of the foremost keyboard interpreters of the Eastern European Romantics, gives an intensely satisfying performance here of Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto”. The Concerto was written for the movies—for, specifically, the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight, in which Polish concert pianist Anton Walbrook becomes a fighter pilot for the RAF, falls in love, gets amnesia, and composes some music. The movie, although a success from a propaganda viewpoint, was considered a potboiler by critics, and even the astute Anthony Burgess, who was an army sergeant and nascent composer himself at the time, looked down on the “Warsaw Concerto” as a cheap imitation of Rachmaninoff. Intellectual snobs have derided the piece, but it’s lingered in the memory for lo these many years, and is only now taking its permanent place in the classical repertoire.
For that we have to thank composer/film music restorer Philip Lane. It was to Lane that the musical estate of Richard Addinsell was entrusted and, like composer/orchestrator William David Brohn (for Prokoviev’s Alexander Nevsky) and my beloved John Wilson, Lane took on the task of reconstructing by ear written scores for film music whose manuscripts had been destroyed through carelessness or war. (Some suggest that the “Warsaw Concerto” was entirely the work of Addinsell’s orchestrator, Roy Douglas, who died in 2015 at the age of 107.) Addinsell’s—or Douglas’s—”Warsaw Concerto” was one of them. As Lane writes:
“The process of reconstruction does not get easier, but some films are more difficult than others. The biggest enemy is the combination of dialogue and sound effects over the music, and occasionally there are seconds of complete inaudibility when guesswork has to replace authenticity. The greater the composer, the more difficult the work, on the whole, since the melodic and harmonic language tends to be more adventurous. In the case of recent scores there are usually soundtrack CDs devoid of extraneous sounds to work from, but despite the change in status of film music, present day composers still mislay their scores. I have reconstructed music by Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Edelman and James Horner in the last year alone. If the composers are still alive I obviously encourage them to do the reconstruction themselves. So far, they have declined for various reasons.”
If I hadn’t fallen so fierce hard for Geordie-born-and-bred orchestral conductor John Wilson I’d never have been delving into All Things Gateshead and I never would have found a (Seoul-based bootleg) recording of this show, which was the very show Mister Grumble and I missed in New York when I was heavily pregnant. Great music, great energy, and it was touching to catch a (private?) glance at Sting—another Geordie, by the way—crossing himself before taking the stage. The sound is impeccable.
For more on The Police’s drummer, go to my posting below, “The Equalizer Theme by Stewart Copeland“.
Shimmy alert at 6:26. Whoever would stifle that shimmy in years to come, my bonny, would stifle your spirit.
Excerpts by composer and band: “Skyliner” – Barnet / Charlie Barnet; “Take the A Train” – Billy Strayhorn and vocalist Joya Sherrill / Duke Ellington; “Let’s Dance” – Gregory Stone (based on von Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance”, orchestrated by Hector Berlioz) / Benny Goodman; “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” – Irving Berlin / Ray Noble; “Begin the Beguine” – Cole Porter / Artie Shaw; “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” – Ned Washington and George Bassman / Tommy Dorsey; “Midnight Sun” – Hampton and Sonny Burke / Lionel Hampton; “You Made Me Love You” – Monaco and McCarthy / Harry James; “Moonlight Serenade” – Miller / Glenn Miller; “Peanut Vendor” – Moisés Simons / Stan Kenton; “Woodchoppers Ball” – Joe Bishop / Woody Herman; “One O’Clock Jump” – Count Basie / Count Basie. Orchestral arrangement by composer Andrew Cottee.
I didn’t work at ASCAP for nothing…
The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St Louis (MGM, 1944). Divided into a series of seasonal vignettes starting with summer, 1903, the movie relates the story of a year in the life of the Smith family in St Louis, Missouri, leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (more commonly referred to as the World’s Fair) in the spring of 1904. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien.
For more Judy, Conrad Salinger and bonny John, go to my post below on “The Trolley Song”.
BBC Concert Orchestra
John Wilson, Conductor
Since at least the age of 25 my beloved John Wilson has been associated with the prolific, ubiquitous English composer Eric Coates (1886-1957). In Town Tonight…Desert Island Discs…Music While You Work…The Forsyte Saga…all these BBC programs’ familiar signature tunes were taken from original works by Coates; while his most famous film music score, The Dam Busters, is well-known, and not just to British concertgoers or aficionados of British WWII pictures. There’s a safe, comforting familiarity about his brisk/inspirational but rather repetitive marches, suites etc that must make them as pleasant to play as they are to hear.
I can only wonder how frequent exposure to Coates’s work must affect John’s “ear”, and actually I’d love to talk to him about it sometime (that date at the Metropole?). As it turns out, I actually studied a few of Coates’s songs in voice class when I was 14: “Green Hills o’Somerset”—”The Fairy Tales of Ireland”—”I Heard You Singing”—and my favorite, “Bird Songs at Eventide”, all of which are sung in the 2008 recording above by baritone Sir Thomas Allen.
If it were solely a matter of musical quality it would be his vocal music, more than his orchestral, that would attract me to Coates’s work overall, but you know and I know I’m really here for my bonny…
My bonny John was 32 when he and his JWO recorded the music for that Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea which I saw, not because I’m a particular fan of Bobby Darin or even of Kevin Spacey (for all that he is the definitive Jamie Tyrone of our generation and frankly I don’t care about anything else), but because I wanted to find out how cheesy the production could get. Well honestly, it was pretty cheesy—but my God, the music…
By 1:12 of this clip I was completely blown away by the arrangement as well as the razor-sharp playing, and vowed to remember the name of this bright new arranger-conductor—which of course I promptly forgot (There are a lot of John Wilsons in the world, as Anthony Burgess would be the first to tell you) and didn’t remember again until last May. A 2005 Grammy nominee. Available on Rhino Records, that notorious niche label, and I’ve gotta find out what that’s all about.
After he finishes his JWO At the Movies gig touring the isle with his eponymous orchestra, cracking waaay off-the-beam jokes between numbers about sexual mores in Now, Voyager (Glasgow’s The Herald deems his whippersnapper remarks “camp wit”!) and playing Fred Astaire’s ballet number from The Bandwagon in order to pay tribute to Gene Kelly(!), my bonny gets back to business in Salford performing and recording a program of Eric Coates: The Merrymakers Overture; The Jester at the Wedding Suite, “Dancing Night”; Ballad for Strings; “I Heard You Singing” from 2 Symphonic Rhapsodies; and for the last number, London Everyday Suite (and you know what that means! It means “Knightsbridge”!! That farkochta earworm I can’t get out of my head!!!) Now for goodness’ sakes John, just play the music and ditch the fatuous pronouncements and the wisecracking. You’re at your best when you’re a musician and not some cheap showman.
At his best: John conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 2 (“London”), Birmingham, 2014.