Notes and Editorial Reviews
This programme is probably catchy enough to get the young listener off to an enthusiastic start.
This is one of a batch of CDs in the Naxos 'My First Album' series which founder Klaus Heymann declares "one of our most important projects with music for children". Each comrpises around 15 to 25 pieces of music selected as a gentle but inspiring introduction to the subject matter: in this case the violin repertory. Other volumes showcase Tchaikovsky, the lullaby, ballet, ‘classical music’ and so on. Virtually all the music consists of single movements drawn from larger works, with the average timing here just under the five-minute mark.
The CD booklets are attractively designed with youngsters in mind, with a fairy-tale-style pencil/pastel drawing on the cover and many smaller colourful ones on every page - violins feature prominently in this volume. Inside, after a brief introduction to the subject - "The violin is one of the most popular instruments the world over" and so on - each item on the disc is allotted a 'Keyword', ranging from the obvious to the odd, such as 'Thrilling', 'Dance', 'Goblins', 'Film' and 'Sting', and there follows a descriptive/explanatory paragraph, in straightforward language that should be intelligible to children as young as five or six, and unpatronising up to about ten or eleven. The texts enlarge on some of the things going on in the music, either as heard in the instruments or, if the work is programmatic, in the story itself, generally with a mention of the mood of the piece and usually alerting the child to some detail or other.
The blurb states that the booklet "is full of information on every piece of music", but that is a bit of an exaggeration. For a start, only the composer's surname is given in the main text, whereas first names - likely to be of interest to younger children - and dates of birth and death are relegated to the small print at the back of the booklet. Unfortunately, there is not even the most cursory of biographical note on any of the composers - this seems an odd omission when the texts talk freely about them as if they were old friends to the reader. Such detail is certainly more relevant than the titles in their original languages, such as 'Danza Española' or 'Souvenir d'un Lieu Cher' - only some of which have in any case been supplied.
For an important project, there is some surprising inconsistency or rashness in the language used in the notes. It is no good a child knowing that "Carmen is the world's most famous opera" or that a cor anglais "sounds like a dark oboe" if (s)he has no idea what an opera is or an oboe sounds like. "Can you hear the birds fluttering on the violin?" is likely to be understood literally by younger children. To describe the cimbalom as an instrument that "sounds a bit like a very old piano" is facile. The remark that "Schindler's List [...] is about the story of the Jews in World War II" is crass, inaccurate and semi-literate. As for that film's title theme - "incredibly sad music"? Nostalgic, touching, introspective - but surely not "incredibly sad", except perhaps for those who have seen the film.
The back of the booklet is the place to go for details of performers, rightly judged this time to be of little importance to nascent listeners, but a necessary reference for parents wishing to delve further into the music, whether on their child's behalf or perhaps - why not - for themselves. Yet the recordings drawn on for these compilations are not really the best ones to look out for, nor even the cheapest anymore. For the first batch of discs at least Naxos have drawn widely on their back catalogue bargain basement, meaning that performances tend to be rarely more than fair-to-middling, whilst the recordings themselves, some over twenty years old, can show their age in their thin or tinny quality, always most noticeable in the orchestral tracks.
That said, this CD is the best of the bunch so far - most of the performances are perfectly serviceable and the chamber recordings, of which there are many on this album, sound decidedly less lossy. Moreover, it is also true that the intended audiences are neither hardcore audiophiles nor zealous collectors but ordinary children, who will probably not notice anyway! Still, there seems no obvious reason why Naxos did not use newer, better recordings across the board.
Asking a six-year-old to sit through seventy-five minutes of any music is a tall order. Even a few minutes of less immediate material might induce premature boredom, in which case other or at least shorter Mozart and Beethoven might have been included instead, and a different Tchaikovsky melody. In smaller servings, this programme is probably catchy enough to get the young listener off to an enthusiastic start, yet it is difficult to discount the idea that those selecting the music and writing the notes could have thought a bit harder.
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International