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Serge Prokofiev
Peter And The Wolf
Sophia Loren - Narrator

Jean-Pascal Beintus
Wolf Tracks
Bill Clinton - narrator

Prologue, Intermezzo, Epilogue
Mikhail Gorbachev 

Russian National Orchestra
Kent Nagano, conductor

Review by Karl Lozier
Click here to e-mail reviewer

Serge Prokofiev Peter and the Wolf

CD: PentaTone Classics 5186 012 CD
PentaTone Classics 5186 011 SACD Hybrid Multi-Channel

 

  This multifaceted recording project is very unusual if not simply unique. Peter and the Wolf is world famous and loved by adults and children. Its appeal has been universal since its unheralded debut in 1936 in Moscow. A large part of its appeal has been its use as an introduction of some of the orchestral instruments used in classical music. Over the years many well known stars of the entertainment world have lent their prestige and story telling talents to aid the promotion of this music for its hoped for effect on young listeners. To mention a few of the older and justly famous narrators for this lovely composition I would list Ralph Richardson, Hermione Gingold, Mia Farrow and Sean Connery and the one I have kept after passing others on to my children years ago, Michael Flanders. All are a bit different and excellent. The narrators traditionally are given quite a bit of latitude in their interpretations and performances. There has been at least three different scripts or texts for the story of Peter and the Wolf to add to the difficulty of deciding on a definitive choice.

No competing version enjoys better sound quality than this reviewed version. There is great detail with unforced clarity showcased here. A fair amount of the recording venue's acoustics is heard herein, the Scottish rite Center in Oakland, California in August 2002. The narrations were added later, Clinton and Loren at the rehearsal site of the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande while Gorbachev's was added at the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow.

The unknown other composition here, Wolf Tracks, was written by the French composer Jean-Pascal Beintus and the accompanying text is by American writer Walt Kraemer. It is not exactly a sequel to Peter and the Wolf but the overall setting is basically the same though the time frame is somewhere near today or the not too distant future. Many of the animals and much of the forest of Peter and the Wolf are gone due to lack of environmental concerns. Wolf Tracks is somehow different than Peter and the Wolf while still being similar. You simply have to experience it for yourself to understand my comment. Hopefully your children will get to experience it also. Again the orchestral accompaniment is excellent as is the audio quality.

The CD version is comparatively a tad deficient in the sense of a fine hall's acoustic signature. The SACD version (SACD is Super Audio CD) here in its multichannel form, is outstanding for presenting a natural acoustical atmosphere and a definite sensation of unforced relaxation. The SACD multi-channel version is not quite as exciting or forceful as the regular CD version. However it excels at recreating a naturally relaxed musical setting. If you are an older classical music lover (from the good old vinyl days) the SACD version reminded me of the imported EMI pressings from the "golden age of stereo recordings". There is now no question that the finest digital can equal the finest analog, though it is by no means always or even usually true. The engineering here is to be admired and appreciated by music lovers. If you hear any shrillness or harshness (particularly in the SACD version) it is not in the recording; it is originating in your audio system.

There is more interesting background information associated with this project than any other recording in my recent memory. I will lightly touch on a small percentage of the fascinating background. The Russian National Orchestra was founded in 1990 and is an independent and not a governmental supported group. They have won awards and accolades worldwide and have a "revolving group of outstanding guest conductors". The orchestra commissioned Beintus to compose Wolf Tracks, heard here to fine effect. The famous contributors to the spoken parts in this production, Clinton, Loren and Gorbachev are donating their entire royalty proceeds to each of their individual charity choices. The outstanding, in every way, accompanying booklet features seventeen pages with color art work plus its cover all done by or for an arts therapy program for children in Moscow, including orphanages, and is sponsored by the NRO.

In my position as critic as well as reviewer, I am compelled to mention two disclaimers to this outstanding production. The first is very minor but why Mikhail Gorbachev's comments in his native Russian language are included is of very questionable interest except to those studying the language. The second disclaimer, I find to be of potentially much more serious concern to a number of people, particularly children in a rather young age range. Teachers, parents and observant adults know, realize and consciously make efforts when speaking to younger children, to speak with great clarity and correct pronunciation. Bill Clinton does a fine job here as is usual for him; we may or may not have agreed with what he has said in the past, but every word was clear and not to be misunderstood.

Sadly, the same cannot be said here for one of my favorite actresses, Sophia Loren. In my not so humble opinion, it is abundantly and almost consistently clear that someone who grew up in a foreign country is doing a barely acceptable job of translating into the English language. The inflections in speech here are not so much misplaced as often just missing. With hundreds of excellent speakers readily available, her choice for this outstandingly important task is not easily understood. If I were asked to guess, my guess would revolve around some sort of questionable "business politics", not logic. I have no interest in further pursuit of this, other than to mention it. The lack of clarity with some words will not deter teenagers and adults. Purchase of this otherwise outstanding recording will benefit three charities. I recommend it quite highly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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