One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,928 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Silverline Classics

Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
Peter and the Wolf, (1935) [24.00]
William Henry Pratt ("Boris Karloff"), narrator
Lieutenant Kije: Suite, Op (1933) [15.39]
Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Mario Rossi
Recorded Vienna Austria, May 1957. Karloff’s voice recorded in New York in 1958.
On screen extras: technical documentary, composer biography, speaker set-up utility.
Notes in English: technical staff, track list. ADD
Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 surround for both DVD-Audio players and DVD video players.
DVD-Audio playable on all DVD players.

SILVERLINE 288230-9 [39.39]

Comparison Recordings:
Peter and the Wolf: Stokowski, NYPO, "Captain Kangaroo" [AAD] Everest EVC 9048
Peter and the Wolf: Tortelier, BBC PO, David Attenborough. BBC Mus. Mag. V8 #10.
Peter and the Wolf: included in Disney’s "Make Mine Music" video
Lieutenant Kije: Sargent, LSO [AAD] Everest EVC 9019
Lieutenant Kije: Fritz Reiner, CSO [ADD] RCA/BMG 60176-2

The title Lieutenant Kije is based on a Russian pun, where the Tsar, who spoke mostly French, doesn’t understand Russian well, and a report from the front reporting on the valour of "the lieutenants, who..." [paruchiki je] is misread to mean "Lieutenant Kije" [paruchik Kije] a proper name. The Tsar wants to give this brave lieutenant a medal and the officers, unwilling to argue with the Tsar, produce a false Lieutenant Kije to receive his medal. The film then recounts his whole life story, the Suite presenting five highlights.

Reiner’s recording has been generally considered the standard performance, with brilliant but dated sound which shows some harshness on the peaks. Malcolm Sargent had a particular talent for the "steel" music by Prokofiev, although there is only a little of that in Lieutenant Kije; he has the well balanced sound and on a mid-price release, but the playing is remarkably imprecise for the LSO.

It is hard to believe that this surround sound recording by Rossi is from 1957, when stereo itself was still an uncertain skill. There is some genuine ambient information here and the 5.1 DVD-Audio mix is quite atmospheric with realistic perspective. This could be explained if at the original two channel sessions there was a separate track for ambience, perhaps including the offstage trumpet in Kije. Although there has been just a little digital ambient enhancement, the natural sound of the orchestra is still here. The distortion level is very low, even by modern standards and the transient dynamic range is exceptional, with the cymbals and drums knocking your hat off, the quiet drum notes and plucked low strings in Peter coming through very clean and clear. Karloff’s voice in Peter was added to the mix later of course. The orchestra play very well, the performance is smooth but unexceptional.

The best sound is naturally on the DVD-Audio surround tracks. When inserted into my Sony DVD player the disk started right up in Dolby surround, and the sound was very good but showed restricted frequency and dynamic range compared to the DVD-Audio tracks. I was eventually able to switch to the 2.0 stereo with virtual surround, and much of the frequency and dynamic range heard on the DVD-Audio tracks was restored.

If one remembers the scene in Frankenstein where Boris Karloff as the title character plays with the little girl, one can see that he might be especially fond of children. It must have taken a great gentleness of spirit for him to be able to put the child actor at ease while he was in his fearful make-up. In fact, William Henry Pratt was a British actor who moved to the US in 1919, after building railroads in Canada, and, after a career in silent films, kept his "public school" accent through over 100 sound films. His reading of the text from Peter and the Wolf is a model of British diction, and he achieves concern and a quiet sense of doom. In his career he released a number of recordings for children and provided one of the character voices in a Dr. Seuss animated movie. David Attenborough is also very British in diction, but considerably more animated, giving the story some real urgency and excitement. All in all, this is probably the most effective recording of the group, sound (and it decodes nicely in your surround sound decoder) and narration.

Bob Keeshan ("Kaptain Kangaroo") who died at 76 earlier this year, had hosted a popular US children’s television show for 30 years, and has a distinct, nay overwhelming, American accent, so that may be all there is to the choice here. What language do you want your children to grow up speaking? But the great advantage of the Stokowski recording is that it also gives you the option of listening to the music with no narration at all, which can be a revelation, and is certainly the way anyone over twelve years old would prefer to hear it.

When comparing Peters we must mention the 1946 Disney animated version which is quite appealing and even features a happy ending when the duck turns out to be alive after all. This is not quite such an outrage as you might think; I think Prokofiev intended that the wolf should spit up the living duck from his insides at some point, but Disney probably felt his audience couldn’t stomach that. And at this time Walt Disney himself had to personally approve every frame that the studio issued. The heavily adapted, hammed-up, narration in the film is by Sterling Holloway (1905 - 1992), an American actor from Georgia who made almost as many films as Pratt, many of them voice tracks for Disney cartoons, including Winnie the Pooh. Although famous for his lampoon portrayal of rustics, here he adopts a sort of "Western Mid-Atlantic" accent and this is a good version for younger children, although the wolf is really frightening. Wolf rescue organisations have no doubt declared this film to be politically incorrect, although in this and all versions, the wolf is only captured to be taken to the zoo, not killed. The sound track is monophonic, of course, and is played by a small ensemble, not a full symphony orchestra, and there are a few minor alterations to the score. This is the only recording to give the title in the original Russian — Pëtr i volk — and some effort appears to have been made to make the costumes appear authentic.

Paul Shoemaker

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.