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Prokofiev: Peter And The Wolf; Britten, Etc / Leppard


Release Date: 03/20/2007 
Label:  Emi Classics For Pleasure Catalog #: 82230   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Alan RawsthorneSergei ProkofievBenjamin Britten
Performer:  Robert DonatRichard Baker
Conductor:  Alan RawsthorneRaymond Leppard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia OrchestraNew Philharmonia OrchestraNew Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mixed 
Length: 1 Hours 12 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This new release from EMI Classics for Pleasure is comprises three works written for children. The first, Alan Rawsthorne’s Practical Cats, was composed in 1954 at the suggestion of the Edinburgh Festival as an “entertainment” for children, while both Prokofiev’s much loved Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra were composed specifically to educate children about the instruments in the orchestra.

This compilation of old EMI tapes opens with the 1957 recording of Rawsthorne’s Practical Cats, which has long been a great favourite of mine, given its stunning combination of excellent orchestral playing and a peerless narration from Robert Donat. With its scintillating and witty playing the
Read more Philharmonia, conducted by the composer, captures the alternating playfulness and mystery of these utterly delightful movements very well indeed. Donat’s distinctive and restrained manner, deliberate yet softly-spoken enunciation, clarity of diction and gorgeously old-fashioned narrative style exudes charm, dignity and nostalgic refinement. He is beautifully characterful and relays T. S. Eliot’s brilliant poems with a touchingly tender affection. It is a deeply moving version – the nobility Donat gives to Bustopher Jones or the poignancy to Old Deuteronomy is absolutely guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of anyone who holds an affection for old England. Unsurpassable … not that I am aware of any other versions available at the moment.

The 1971 recordings of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra are narrated by Richard Baker. Although the Britten is very good, with excellent orchestral playing and Baker on good form - pleasingly instructive and interesting without being condescending - I was slightly less impressed by the Prokofiev, a version I have not listened to since about the age of 8! The New Philharmonia needs a bit more life and spark, as I felt the performances a little lacking in excitement. The whole wolf, episode, for example, can be really sinister and frightening – but not so here. Baker, similarly, is far too “safe” in his narration – with no particularly special voices or characterisations.

There are numerous other versions of both of these works. On Cala we find both works along with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with Ben Kingsley as narrator, and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras (a 1995 recording). Although Kingsley’s voice is at the same time more gentle and far more expressive than Baker’s, he seems to put rather strange emphases on the words … or emphasis on strange words, perhaps! Although his Grandfather is wonderfully growly - as he should be! - the bird sounds almost exactly like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit – rather off-putting! The strange weightings and stresses on words continue into the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and Baker’s version is by far preferable to Kingsley's – not least on account of the due reverence and respect with which Baker endues the words (speaking of Purcell) “great English composer”! The best Peter and the Wolf I can find is that with good old Michael Flanders on HMV Classics - Efrem Kurtz conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1959. Flanders is perfect – getting the combination of both interest and clarity along with fantastic characterisations, combining the best aspects of both Baker and Kingsley without any of their faults. The animals are superb - duck especially, with its little extra quack! – brilliantly done, yet without sounding actually silly. The Grandfather doesn’t sound gruff enough - my one bone of contention. In my mind’s ear, he should be a deep, low, gruff and grumpy grandfather. That said, he is still very characterful, ancient and worried-sounding. This disc also contains a perfectly decent performance of the Britten with Groves conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra but without a narrator. Another good but unfortunately narrator-less version can be found on EMI Classics with Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1996.

Although I am slightly hesitant about the Prokofiev on this disc, the Britten is excellent and the Rawsthorne outstanding. If you have children, buy this for them! If you don’t, buy it for yourself. It is worth it for the Rawsthorne alone!

-- Em Marshall, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Practical Cats by Alan Rawsthorne
Performer:  Robert Donat (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Alan Rawsthorne
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; England 
Length: 23 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a mono recording.
Kingsway Hall, London, England (09/24/1954 - 09/29/1954); EMI Abbey Road Studio 3, London, England (12/21/1954 - 12/23/1954) 
2. Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Richard Baker (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Raymond Leppard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; USSR 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 28 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London (08/27/1971 - 08/28/1971) 
3. Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Richard Baker (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Raymond Leppard
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; England 
Venue:  All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London 
Length: 19 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London (08/27/1971 - 08/28/1971) 

Sound Samples

Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) (1998 Digital Remaster): Overture (Presto)
Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) (1998 Digital Remaster): The Naming of Cats (Allegretto)
Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) (1998 Digital Remaster): The Old Gumbie Cat (Allegro)
Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) (1998 Digital Remaster): Gus: the Theatre Cat (Allegro moderato)
Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) (1998 Digital Remaster): Bustopher Jones: the Cat about Town (Andante pomposo)
Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) (1998 Digital Remaster): Old Deuteronomy (Andante teneramente)
Practical Cats - An entertainment for speaker and orchestra (1954) (1998 Digital Remaster): The Song of the Jellicles (Molto vivace)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): Introduction
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): Early one morning... (Peter)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): On a branch of a big tree (The Bird)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): Just then, a duck came waddling round (The Duck)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): Suddenly, something caught Peter's attention (The Cat)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): Grandfather came out (Grandfather)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): No sooner had Peter gone (The Wolf)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): And now, this is how things stood
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): Meanwhile, Peter made a lasso
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): Just then... (The Hunters)
Peter and the Wolf - A Musical Tale for Children Op. 67 [Baker version] (1995 Digital Remaster): And now...imagine the triumphant procession!
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): Spoken introduction
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): A: Flutes & piccolo - Presto
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): B: Oboes - Lento
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): C: Clarinets - Moderato
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): D: Bassoons - Allegro con marcia
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): E: Violins - Brillante, alla polacca
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): F: Violas - Meno mosso
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): G: Cellos - L'istesso tempo
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): H: Double basses - Cominciando lento ma poco a poco accelerando al allegro
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): I: Harp - Maestoso
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): J: Horns - L'istesso tempo
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): K: Trumpets - Vivace
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): L: Trombones & bass tuba - Allegro pomposo
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): M: Percussion - Moderato
The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell Op. 34 (Baker version) (1995 Digital Remaster): Fugue: Allegro molto - Con slancio (L'istesso tempo) (full orchestra)

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