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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

A different sprig of heather

By Norman Lebrecht / January 14, 2009

One of the yearís less celebrated anniversaries is the 250th of the birth of Robert Burns on January 25, 1759. Donít expect too many fireworks in these southern parts, but one country where theyíll be raising a few toasts is, unexpectedly, Russia.

Burnsís popularity there was founded in the Stalin era when his poems were deemed politically non-contentious and 600,000 volumes, translated by Samuel Marshak, sold between 1924 and the dictatorís death. Burns entered the school curriculum alongside his contemporary, Pushkin. Today, there are more Burns clubs in Russia than in Scotland and Burns Night ceremonies are televised from the Kremlin itself.

Composers, led by Shostakovich in 1942 and quickly followed by Stalinís mouthpiece Tikhon Khrennikov, produced competitive settings of Russified Burns. A timely anthology, recorded on Toccata Classics, shows Scotlandís favourite son tapping into those gloomy registers of bass voice and keyboard that Russians regard as soul music. Gyorgy Sviridovís Highland Laddie lives somewhere around Nizhny Novgorod while Edison Denisovís Jenny (cominí throí the rye) is a burdened, defeated slip of a girl. Yuri Levitinís love is not so much a red, red rose as a crown of thorns. The cultural transference, or misapprehension, is unfailingly fascinating , is unfailingly fascinating inVasily Savenko's dark bass voice.

Toccata, a one-man label sternly dedicated to musical esoterica, is about to launch a subscription model Discovery Club that will allow listeners to stray inexpensively off the mainstream. I have yet to hear a record from this source that has not opened my mind to alternative possibilities.

To be notified of the next Lebrecht article, please email mikevincent at scena dot org

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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