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.”
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”.
There was one number in the entire JWO Salute to Rodgers & Hammerstein that was worth a damn—only one, but it’s a doozy.
An impressive list of orchestrators went into the making of this film musical number, including Nelson Riddle, Earle Hagen (That Girl Theme, The Dick Van Dyke Show Theme, The Andy Griffith Show Theme) and John Williams; you can hear the layers and layers of gorgeous sound in John and his Orchestra’s rendition.
This clip is from the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, 2010, but really, listen instead to this cut from the JWO’s 2011 recording:
“June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”
from Rodgers & Hammerstein At The Movies
Since 2004, when John and his eponymous orchestra first played this reconstituted medley, by MGM’s best-known music director, at the 2,900-seat Royal Festival Hall, it has become sort of their signature piece which they’ve played all over the world, from Sydney to Berlin. I can’t imagine how John was able to transcribe the score directly from hearing this lusterless 1954 film short, but my darling has the gift of patience and commitment.
One of those rare moments when John conducted without his baton, which fell out of his grasp but was retrieved seconds later by an alert string player. Berlin, 2016.
Here are the numbers (I’ll add the composers later): “Singin’ In the Rain”; “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”; “Broadway Rhythm”; “The Last Time I Saw Paris”; “Temptation” (shades of Tony Martin!); “Be My Love” (shades of Mario Lanza!); “The Trolley Song” (with the Judy sound); “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (more Judy sound); “Donkey Serenade”; and “Over the Rainbow” (the Judy sound of all Judy sounds).
The last two numbers, “Donkey” and “Rainbow” were obvious tributes to Green’s late predecessor, Oscar-winner (for The Wizard of Oz score, which John reconstructed by ear), Herbert Stothart.
Deleted: 2 bars plus “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and John, I’d really like having a little chinwag with you re Philip Lane’s remarks etc one of these days.
“Payapang Daigdig” means Peaceful World in English, and this piece has all the beauty and inspiration of Faure. The Filipino-American Symphony and Chorus, with its home base in San Diego, California, is the first and only Filipino orchestra outside of the Philippines.
Before I go into a couple of my bonny’s more recent musical missteps that have done their part to annoy the hell out of me, I think it’s only fair to share the best clips available of John Wilson’s own 24-year-old orchestra—cannily named, as I have mentioned, The John Wilson Orchestra—which, out of over 200(!) on YouTube in nine years, come down to about three, maybe four of those clips spread out through 2009-2017.
So in no particular order: This is from their 2012 show Broadway Sounds at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London, which seats 5200, with standing room for 1300 on the ground floor (tickets for which go for only 6L and for which people camp out overnight at the box office like it was freakin Winterland). This is pertinent, because it seems like the JWO only does its best work when it can blast the roof off a barn.
I had the old Ben Bagley recording and the 1983 Broadway revival recording (conducted by John Mauceri) of the Rodgers & Hart show On Your Toes—which of course includes the climactic ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”—but both producer Bagley as well as musical theater preservationist Mauceri put on disc the 1936 Robert Russell Bennett orchestration rather than the 1954 one by Don Walker. Our John, being John (I’m starting to get into his “ear”), chose the Walker score to play in the Royal Albert, and for once he was entirely right.
Je l’ai cherchée partout j’ai fait le tour du monde
De Venise à Java de Manille à Angkor
De Jeanne à Victoria de Vénus en Joconde
Je ne l’ai pas trouvée et je la cherche encore
Je ne connais rien de lui et pourtant je le vois
J’ai inventé son nom j’ai entendu sa voix
J’ai dessiné son corps et j’ai peint son visage
Son portrait et l’amour ne font plus qu’une image
Cleansing my aural memory of John Wilson’s recording of Legrand’s “Chanson de Maxence” (in English clumsily rendered as “You Must Believe in Spring” or some such) in his awful 2000 album, Orchestral Jazz, with Anne Sofie van Otter‘s version. Bonny John conducts his eponymous orchestra in an arrangement by Richard Rodney Bennett, who had absolutely no feel for this song. With such a strong melody (reminiscent of Fauré) and strong lyrics, all it needs is a strong emotive singer and a backup piano. I note with some distress that John himself did some other arrangements in this album, particularly for “Miss Otis Regrets”. With no lyrics! What the hell good is such a hilarious song without the words???
John and the JWO are okay, but just okay. I suppose when he was 28 my bonny’s loftiest ambition was to be the next Sidney Torch.