Vasily Petrenko conducts animal-themed music by Prokofiev and Saint-Saëns

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Album title:
Prokofiev • Saint-Saëns
Composer(s):
Prokofiev, Saint-Saens
Works:
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf; Rawsthorne: Practical Cats; Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
Performer:
Alexander Armstrong (narrator); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Label:
Warner Classics
Catalogue Number:
9029575952
Performance:
starstarstarstarnostar
Recording:
starstarstarstarstar
4
Reviewer:
BBC Music Magazine
Vasily Petrenko conducts animal-themed music by Prokofiev and Saint-Saëns

It’s a measure of Peter and the Wolf’s brilliance that no amount of theatrical histrionics or ‘fashion’ can spoil a score of such spare, enchanted perfection. Its economy of means – both in words and music – give it a mirror-like quality, reflecting the changing ethos of the times. Rummaging through the catalogue you’ll find great patricians like Sir John Gielgud; the comics (Dame Edna Everage, Lenny Henry), pop stars (David Bowie better than Sting), and the honeyed, comforting pros (Richard Baker) among which Alexander Armstrong belongs. There’s a palpable smile in his sonorous baritone – and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s invigorating account makes up for any lack of excitement in the reading. 

It’s the same story for Saint-Saëns’s ever-fresh Carnival of the Animals. Armstrong seems all-too aware that Ogden Nash’s mordant verses (1949) now sound groan-worthy, but the irrepressibly witty score (aided by a dynamic uncredited piano duo) triumphs.

The rarity on this disc is Rawsthorne’s setting of TS Eliot’s Practical Cats. A bristling overture, colourfully scored, promises much. And Armstrong’s skills as singer-actor come into their own in this sprechgesangrecitation. Then it goes on. And on. Serving only to remind us that not all the poems were as good as Macavity. I think Andrew Lloyd Webber probably had the better idea here… 

Helen Wallace

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Saint-Saëns's Symphony No. 3 and Carnival of the Animals conducted by Antonio Pappano
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