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Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Look Glass
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Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Look Glass)

Oscar Wilde Happy Prince, The Rose and the Nightingale, The Selfish Giant, The Devoted Friend and The Remarkable Rocket,
Read by Sir John Gielgud
rec. Wyastone Leys 2-3 September 1985 (Wilde) and 9-13 March 1987 (Carroll)
NIMBUS NI 1797 [112:00] (Wilde)
NIMBUS NI 1723 [4 CDs: 59.42 + 57.55 (Wonderland); 63.19 + 73.16 (Looking Glass)] (Carroll)

Experience Classicsonline

After being charmed and delighted by the superb Monkey epic, read by Kenneth Williams and available from Nimbus as an MP3 disc, I was only too pleased to get my hands on these two further audiobooks from Nimbus, with the great Sir John Gielgud reading the classic children’s books Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and other stories.

The recordings were made in the Ballroom of the beautiful Victorian Wyastone Leys house, resulting in a fairly resonant acoustic, and both audiobooks intersperse the readings with appropriate musical extracts, adding greatly to the atmosphere of the listening experience.

In Alice in Wonderland - and particularly the scene-setting opening - Gielgud creates a wonderfully evocative dream-world. His gorgeously cultured, suave, refined voice declaims over music from symphonies by William Boyce and Mendelssohn (conducted by William Boughton and also available on Nimbus - and also highly recommended) to paint a gloriously nostalgic picture of a rural idyll suffused with the innocence of childhood: all is right and honourable with the world.

Gielgud is superb throughout - slightly slow and rambling, but in a wonderfully Old School of acting way that lends exquisite class and sophistication to the readings. His accents are brilliant - the Cheshire cat, for example, is superbly feline, and his tone is set to both engage children and fascinate and enchant adults.

The Oscar Wilde disc, which includes the Happy Prince, The Rose and the Nightingale, The Selfish Giant, The Devoted Friend and The Remarkable Rocket, are as desperately sad and poignant as listeners will remember from childhood. I cannot think of a better and more expressive and nostalgic voice to narrate these than Gielgud’s. They are interspersed with musical excerpts by Vaughan Williams, Granados, Ravel and even Shostakovich. These have been carefully chosen and work very well with the tales.

My only criticism is that on occasion there is a slight imbalance between music and voice, and one struggles a little to hear the narration. Otherwise, these are excellent - and historically important - discs that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for children and adults alike.

Em Marshall 

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