Troubles, brewing

  • 3 May, 2013
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siege-of-leningradbThis month sees the much awaited release of the next installment in the cycle of Shostakovich symphonies recorded by Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Naxos 8.573057). The historical baggage carried by the Seventh Symphony, Leningrad, is well documented; the atmosphere of Stalinist repression and the horror of Russia’s war against Hitler ride the music in an array of emotions.

The work was an inspiration to those who were trapped in the appalling conditions of the German siege against Leningrad that ran from 1941 to 1944. That spirit of defiance has now made the unlikely journey through time and across musical genres to this year’s Ivor Novello Awards, Britain’s annual event that recognises and rewards excellence in song-writing and composition. A sample of the fourth movement of Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony underpins Ill Manors, which has been nominated for Best Contemporary Song. The hit was recorded by London rapper and songwriter, Ben Drew, aka Plan B, who found his equivalent inspiration for the song in the shocking social unrest that played out in the 2011 London riots. Shostakovich’s name is up there in the credits of contributing artists awaiting the announcement of the winners on May 16.

Fortunately, such cross-fertilisation between classical and popular music hasn’t always been born of strife. A bit of track-hopping reveals how some favourite classics have readily translated into easy listening and a wider audience.

Kismet, the 1953 Broadway production that won the Tony Award for Best Musical, mixes original numbers with adaptations of music by Borodin. Strangers in Paradise (Naxos 8.120847, track 8) has its roots in his Polovtsian Dances (Naxos 8.550051). Grieg’s music was similarly borrowed for the operetta Song of Norway: you can judge for yourself how well Freddy and his Fiddle (Naxos Nostalgia 8.120879, track 3) stands up against its original incarnation as the Norwegian Dance No. 2 (Naxos 8.556658).

Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat (Naxos 8.550360 track 6) morphed into Till the End of Time, a popular song from 1945 (CCLCDG1080, track 16); the following year, the Ronde des Princesses from Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird (Naxos 8.550263) found its way into many people’s hearts and homes through Lauritz Melchior’s recording of Summer Moon (Naxos Historical 8.111239, track 17).

Returning to Vasily Petrenko, his success to date with the Shostakovich symphony cycle is in no doubt; there has been a plethora of positive critical petrenkocomment, of which this reaction to Volume 5′s First and Third Symphonies from Steve Schwartz of ClassicalCDreview.com is typical:

“Gripping. Oh, dear Lord! These two accounts of early Shostakovich not only succeed in their own right, they stand among the very best ever.”

The accolades say as much about Petrenko’s bond with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as his understanding of the composer. He was appointed chief conductor in 2009, and one of his recent initiatives for audience-building has been to hold coffee concerts, held at noon and performed informally. It’s reported that a measure of their success has been that the Norwegian consul, the Archbishop of Liverpool and the city’s national treasure of a comedian, Ken Dodd, were all spotted in the audience at one performance. The idea, however, is not as modern as might seem.

zimmermann-coffeehousebWhen J. S. Bach was working in Leipzig between 1723 and his death in 1750, he diluted the focus on his duties at the choir school serving the St Thomas Church after ructions with the principal, instead putting more energy into the Friday evening secular music occasions held at Gottfried Zimmerman’s Coffee House. The conviviality of the venue appealed to performers and audience alike, and it is assumed that this is where Bach’s Coffee Cantata (Naxos 8.550641) was first performed. Written in the mid-1730s, it’s scored for soprano, tenor and bass, with flute, strings and basso continuo. The story-line involves a father trying to wean his daughter off her dependency on the black stuff, but ends with the trio telling us that coffee-drinking is indeed an addictive habit!

And so it seems to have continued, with the steamy liquid continuing to hook both consumers and composers. Pour yourself coffeecupa cup, sit back and enjoy listening to some pieces that have taken inspiration from the brew:

Irving Berlin’s Let’s have another cup of coffee (Naxos Nostalgia 8.120842, track 10)

Ella Fitzgerald’s performance of Sonny Burke’s Black Coffee (Naxos Jazz Legends 8.120774, track 3)

Jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli’s take on Buddy G. de Silva’s You’re the cream in my coffee (Naxos Jazz Legends 8.120570, track 19)

and Alan Bullard’s Coffee and croissants (Naxos 8.572503, track 22) for recorder and strings, a chic waltz that will have you on the banks of the River Seine in a trice.

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