Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf (SACD review)

Also, Beintus: Wolf Tracks. Mikhail Gorbachev, Sophia Loren, Bill Clinton. Kent Nagano, Russian National Orchestra. PentaTone Classics 5186 011.

Mikhail Gorbachev? Sophia Loren? Bill Clinton? What goes on here? PentaTone Classics assembled an all-star cast of narrators for their coupling of Prokofiev's perennial favorite, Peter and the Wolf, written in 1936, and Jean-Pascal Beintus's newer work, Wolf Tracks, which premiered in 2002. The PentaTone disc, which won a Grammy in 2004, is a plea for cooperation and understanding among the peoples of the world and the environment they share. It's really quite a sweet notion, and the coupling of the two compositions effectively demonstrates the viability of the idea. Now, if we could just force the governments of the world to listen and behave themselves, maybe we'd get somewhere.

Mr. Gorbachev introduces the disc, comments in between the two works, and concludes with an epilogue. Ms. Loren sweetly narrates Peter, and Mr. Clinton narrates Wolf Tracks. Together, they make a formidable team. Of course, despite the disc's well-meaning intent, it is probably for Peter and the Wolf that most people would buy it, and, fortunately, it is a decent account. Ms. Loren injects a note of warmth and humor into the piece, and Kent Nagano and the Russian National Orchestra play with conviction, grace, and wit. Never does Nagano let the work flag, and never do the characters it portrays seem anything but well defined and recognizable. Although I still have a special fondness for the old (1957) Vanguard recording of Peter, wonderfully narrated by Boris Karloff, it's not a bad account from this newcomer, if gentler and less menacing.

The companion piece, Wolf Tracks, is a more debatable proposition. If somewhat lightweight, it's nevertheless a pleasant enough appeal for tolerance, as Peter's grandson learns about the importance of wolves and all creatures in the great scheme of things. I enjoyed it, along with Mr. Clinton's homey touch at narration, but it isn't the kind of thing I might find myself going back to. It was kind of a one-off proposition for me.

The 2003 audio from PentaTone reminds me of some of Telarc's albums, and the recording comes to us as a hybrid Super Audio CD (SACD), so it contains both a multichannel layer and an ordinary two-channel layer. One can play it on an SACD player or in stereo only on an ordinary CD player. As one might expect, it sounded fairly good in the two-channel SACD stereo mode to which I listened, the narration perhaps a little close but the orchestra opening up well behind it, both left-to-right and front-to-back. Frequency response, bass, transient impact, and such are what we have come to admire from SACD's, perhaps a tad warm, soft, and veiled but natural enough regardless.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa