My First Lullaby Album - NAXOS 8.578213 [Byz] - Musicweb International Classical Reviews

My First Lullaby Album
Full track details at end of review
rec. No details given. DDD
NAXOS 8.578213 [71:52]

This is one of a batch of CDs released together, with more to follow, in a 'My First Album' series. Naxos founder Klaus Heymann declares this to be "one of our most important projects with music for children." Each disc consists of around 15 to 25 pieces of music - bleeding chunks, to be sure - that have been selected as a gentle but inspiring introduction to the subject matter: in this case the lullaby, but on other volumes Tchaikovsky, the violin, ballet, classical music and so on. Virtually all the music consists of single movements drawn from larger works, with the average timing here just under the four-minute mark.
The CD booklets are attractively designed with youngsters in mind, with a fairy-tale style pencil/pastel drawing on the cover and many smaller colourful ones on every page - stars and moons feature prominently in this volume. Inside, after a brief introduction to the subject - "... it is time for the little ones to go to bed ..." and so on - each item on the disc is allotted a 'Keyword', ranging from the obvious to the odd, such as 'Dream', 'Shimmering', 'English Strings', 'Tinkling' and 'Tudor Song'. There follows a descriptive/explanatory paragraph, in straightforward language that should be intelligible to children as young as five or six, and unpatronising up to about ten or eleven. The texts enlarge on some of the things going on in the music, either as heard in the instruments or in the story itself, generally with a mention of the mood of the piece and usually alerting the child to some detail or other.
The blurb states that the booklet "is full of information on every piece of music", but that is a bit of an exaggeration. Most obviously, only the composer's surname is given in the main text, whereas first names - likely to be of interest to younger children - and dates of birth and death are relegated to the small print at the back of the booklet. Unfortunately, there is not even the most cursory of biographical note on any of the composers - this seems an odd omission when the texts talk freely about them as if they were old friends to the reader.
The simplified titles also contain some odd extra detail: will a child know what to make of "Lullaby from Two Pieces, Op. posth."? Will youngsters be able to read titles in their original language - only some of which, in any case, have been supplied? In the explanatory texts, are phrases like "enriching the impressionistic palette" and "giving full expression to the distinctive Elgarian and very English lush string sound" really the right register for young children? Does the note-writer have young children of his own?
The back of the booklet is the place to go for details of performers, rightly judged this time to be of little importance to nascent listeners, but a necessary reference for parents wishing to delve further into the music, whether on their child's behalf or perhaps for themselves. Yet the recordings drawn on for this compilation are not, it must be said, necessarily the best ones to look out for: Naxos have drawn widely on the back catalogue bargain basement. For one thing, performances tend to be rarely more than fair-to-middling - certainly no child could relax enough to doze off with Steven Rickards singing over them. For another, some recordings are twenty years old and their age often shows itself in the thin or tinny quality of the audio, as in the Fauré Berceuse or, worst of all, the Chanson de Nuit or the almost mono-sounding Clair de Lune.
On the other hand, it is true that the intended audience is not hardcore audiophiles but children, who will probably not notice. Moreover, some recordings, like Jandó's Schumann, have aged well (although his humming along is as irritating as ever), and others, like the Bax Lullaby, are from relatively recent discs. Still, there seems no obvious reason why Naxos did not use newer, better recordings - it is hard to see how there could be any copyright issues when all the music comes from their own releases. Perhaps in part the idea was, quite understandably, to wring a few more sales out of old stock.

It is commendable of Naxos to include some less predictable items, including, for the first time in this series, a song or two. Canteloube's Brezairola or Bax's Lullaby in particular get a rare but deserved outing. Dowland's lovely Come, Heavy Sleep is also an eyebrow-raiser, but not in the same way - his "sleep" is a euphemism for death!
Asking a six-year-old to sit through seventy-five minutes of any music is a tall order, and the problem with a CD of lullabies is that all the music is fairly slow and gentle, which may send young listeners to sleep before intended! Nonetheless, in smaller doses the programme chosen here - "famous tracks as well as unexpected gems" - should do the trick, although the question "Why lullabies?" persists.
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Full track details

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
a Wiegenlied, op.49 no.4 ('Guten Abend, Gut' Nacht') [2:12]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
b Notturno (from: A Midsummer Night's Dream, op.61) [6:26]
n Lullaby (from: Songs without Words, op.67) [2:04]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
c Lullaby [4:28]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
d Lullaby (from: The Firebird) [3:56]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
e Dreaming (Träumerei) (from: Kinderszenen, op.15) [2:43]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
f Berceuse, op.16 [5:21]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
g Nocturne in D flat, op.27 no.2 [6:12]
g Berceuse in D flat, op.57 [4:38]
Edward ELGAR (1906-1975)
h Chanson de Nuit, op.15 no.1 [4:26]
Edvard GRIEG (1803-1856)
i Notturno (from: Lyric Pieces, book 5, op.54) [4:25]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
j Lullaby (from: Two Pieces, op. posth., B.188) [3:07]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
k Clair de Lune (from: Suite Bergamasque, arr. Alfred Reed) [4:26]
q Reverie [4:25]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
l Sweet Dreams (from: Album for the Young, op.39) [2:32]
Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
m Brezairola ('Lullaby') (from: Songs of the Auvergne, vol.I) [3:13]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
o Wiegenlied, D.948 [2:07]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
p Come, Heavy Sleep [3:13]
a,o Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Peter Breiner
b Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Anthony Bramall
c Ashley Wass (piano)
d BRT Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
e Jeno Jandó (piano)
f,k Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Keith Clark
g,l Idel Biret (piano)
h New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
i Einar Steen-Nokleberg (piano)
j Stefan Veselka (piano)
m Véronique Gens (soprano)
m Orchestre National de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
n Péter Nagy (piano)
p Steven Rickards (counter-tenor)
p Dorothy Linell (lute)
q François-Joël Thiollier (piano)

All the music is fairly slow and gentle, which may send young listeners to sleep before intended!