Schubert sonatas

Newest Releases

Piano solo and duet
  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Some items
to consider

Free classical music concerts by Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

British composers

  • Today's leading<br>clarinet-piano duo
  • Stellar debut<br>piano recital
  • Clarinet transcriptions Jonathan Cohler
  • Jonathan Cohler & Claremont Trio
  • French clarinet masterpieces
  • Today's leading<br>clarinet-piano duo

Shostakovich Symphony 10 Nelsons

Verdi Requiem

Dvorak Opera Premiere

Grieg, Mendelssohn sonatas




Would you like a hyperlinked weekly summary of the CDs we have reviewed?

Click for further details

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
Classical Editor
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Stan Metzger
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on

Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical


Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Cameo Classics
Prima voce
Red Priest
Toccata Classics

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
Classical Editor
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Stan Metzger
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Once upon a time - Children’s tales for piano and narrator
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
The Story of Babar (1940) [27:00]
Richard WILSON (b. 1941)
A Child’s London (1984) [8:22]
Soulima STRAVINSKY (1910-1994)
Three Fairy Tales (1976) [24:05]
Henri BARRAUD (b.1900)
Histoires pour les Enfants (1930) [7:29]
Haskell Smith (piano); Robert Aubry Davis (narrator)
rec. St Peter’s Historic Church, New York City, July 1998
ONGAKU RECORDS 024-114 CD [66:56]

Experience Classicsonline

I cannot imagine a time when children will cease to respond to the power of a story simply told by a single narrator. Parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents all know the immense shared enjoyment that this can give. Funny voices, strange rhymes and the use of repeated passages can all play their part effectively. That said, few, even amongst musicians, are able to emulate the oft-repeated claim that Poulenc originally improvised “L’histoire de Babar” when the niece of a friend put Jean de Brunhoff’s book on the piano and asked him to play it. Maybe this isn’t true, but I am convinced that to be effective a performance of the work needs above all to sound spontaneous. This is perhaps the main problem with the present disc. The narration in particular is plodding and too knowing in tone, and the piano part is played in an accurate but wholly unimaginative way. I have not been able to make the experiment but find it hard to imagine a child sitting still for more than the first few minutes of what seems in this performance an interminable tale.

This is a great pity, as discs of stories with piano are not exactly thick on the ground. Even the Poulenc is not recorded very often, and when it is it is usually in the orchestral version arranged by Jean Francaix. It can be very effective - and in my experience even if read in the original language as an aid to French lessons - but it does rely very much on both performers making much more of it. I understand that Mr Davis is known in the United States for his radio programmes about early music and singer-songwriters. I have heard none of them, but I must admit to finding his tone of voice unconvincing as a teller of children’s stories. I got used to his adenoidal accent fairly quickly but there always seemed to be something patronising about his narrations rather than relying on simple sincerity or outright theatricality, either of which would be more effective. Haskell Smith, the pianist, plays well and is recorded cleanly but there remains something too literal and studied about his approach which again tends to reduce the impact of the piece as a whole.

The other three items are interesting but do not amount to much by comparison with the Poulenc. Richard Wilson is a former pupil of Randall Thompson and is now Professor of Music at Vassar. His short set of six pieces was written for his daughter’s piano lessons when she was eight. They are pleasant but instantly forgettable as is the linking fanciful but uninteresting narrative of a child’s visit to London. The pieces by Soulima Stravinsky and Henri Barraud are both essentially sets of piano pieces, each preceded by its title read by Mr Davis. They too are pleasant and, especially the Soulima Stravinsky, they do stick in the memory more and are worth hearing more than once. Whether they are sufficient reason in themselves to purchase the disc remains doubtful unless, that is, you are a fan of either of the artists. The field remains open for a really satisfying recording of the Poulenc - perhaps as a DVD with the original pictures.

John Sheppard 















Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

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.