The chief appeal of this reissue will be sentimental. By the
time this recording of Peter and the Wolf was made, Jacqueline
du Pré, who had made her reputation with a recording of the
Elgar Cello Concerto with Barbirolli, still one of EMI’s
best-sellers in its GROC reissue (5 62886 2 – see review),
was too ill with MS to perform in public. Her Elgar is soulful
– too soulful for some, my wife included, who finds that it
moves her intolerably – so it’s hardly surprising that the illness
which deprived her of the chance to perform, and which eventually
killed her, became an object of public interest. That Eloquence
wish to play the sentimental card – not that there’s any harm
in that – is apparent from the picture on the front cover of
Jacqueline du Pré surrounded by Disney-like images of Springtime.
Versions of Peter and the Wolf come in
many flavours, some of them playing on their narrator’s comedic
reputation, some avuncular, others straight and rather didactic.
Du Pré’s narration falls between the two latter categories -
though I’m not quite sure what the feminine equivalent of ‘avuncular’
is: since avunculus strictly means one’s maternal aunt,
I suppose the word should be derived from matertera,
a maternal aunt.
I’m not sure, however, how well today’s children
will take to heavy diction, unhurried even in the livelier passages,
which must already have seemed old-fashioned in 1979, sounding
like pre-war BBC received pronunciation with the addition of
heavily rolled rs. This is fair enough when the wolf
looks ‘with grrreedy eyes’, but the effect does become
wearing. Today’s children may well prefer something more like
Sting with the COE and Abbado (DG 429 396 2); otherwise the
orchestral performance compares well with the best and the recording
wears its years lightly enough.
Couplings for Peter are varied; the works
which accompany it here are as appropriate as any. Some years
before this recording, du Pré had appeared on stage playing
the drum in Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony so, although
she doesn’t narrate in this work, this, too, was part of her
legacy. The Cassation for Orchestra with Toys, three
movements of which were once attributed to Haydn, is here played
in full; it’s a fun, if hardly substantial, piece and it receives
a fun performance here. It’s probably more fun for children
to play in than for them to listen to but, even so, I imagine
that its inclusion will add to the appeal of the reissue. There’s
little point in comparing it in detail with Ton Koopman’s performance
on a CD of music by Mozart senior which includes the Peasant’s
Wedding (From Kindersinfonie to Bauernhochzeit, Challenge
Classics CC72189 – see review).
To the Prokofiev and Leopold Mozart contents
of the original LP, Eloquence have added substantial fillers,
which bring the playing time to a respectable 69 minutes.
I suppose that the unconscious benchmark recording
of L’apprenti sorcier for most of us has to be the Stokowski
soundtrack of the Disney film with Mickey Mouse as the apprentice.
My own earliest recordings were by Ansermet and Solti, both
Decca demonstration recordings in their day. The Ansermet resurfaced
on CD in the company of the Ralph Richardson/Malcolm Sargent
version of Peter on Decca’s erstwhile budget Weekend
label. No doubt that Ansermet version will reappear in due
course in Eloquence’s series of reissues of his recordings and
the Solti also deserves to reappear (on Eloquence, too?), perhaps
with its original coupling, the Rossini-Respighi ballet La
Boutique fantasque, last seen as the filler to Decca’s Weekend
reissue of Ansermet’s complete Nutcracker. Perhaps Eloquence
will reissue that very deserving version of the Nutcracker,
Barenboim is a little slower than Ansermet -
and, to the best of my memory, Solti - which makes him for my
money just a little too slow and deliberate by comparison –
everything is in place and it’s quite exciting at times, but
it doesn’t quite come off. The DG recording was hailed as outstanding
in its day and it still sounds well; indeed, I’m surprised that
a DG recording of this date was not made in DDD.
The performance of Danse Macabre, originally
released on the same LP, has most recently been available coupled
with Barenboim’s classic 1976 performance of the Saint-Saëns
Third (Organ) Symphony on DG Galleria 415 847-2. The
latter is still available and less expensive than the identical
programme on DG Originals 474 612 2. It’s much better played
than the version by Alexander Gibson on another Eloquence CD,
Witches’ Brew (442 9985) and it benefits from being a
little faster, though it is a little lacking in the more macabre
elements. Children love the macabre, as witness their fascination
with dinosaurs, and they may well not relish the quality of
the playing but prefer something just a little more ghoulish.
The recording, again, still sounds well.
The notes in the Eloquence booklet, by Raymond
Tuttle, are more than adequate and the overall presentation
is attractive, if you don’t mind the slightly kitsch cover.
I’m sure that this reissue will sell well, and deserves to sell
well, at its very tempting price. There’s nothing seriously
amiss here; I just wish that I could have been a little more
enthusiastic about it.