Carnival of the Animals
Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals; plus works by Tchaikovsky, Bartók, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Eric Whitacre and Bob Marley
Michael Morpurgo, Olivia Colman (narrator); The Kanneh Masons
Decca 485 1158 55:24 mins
Carnival of the Animals is beloved by ‘children and grown-up children’ says Michael Morpurgo in the preamble to this new setting of Saint-Saëns’s accidental classic, a work the composer only permitted to be published posthumously for fear it would dilute the impact of his ‘serious’ music.
Morpurgo has provided verses – written from the perspective of each of the featured protagonists and narrated by the author and Olivia Colman – to correspond to the 14 movements. Like all good children’s literature, these light-hearted ponderings belie serious ideas – Colman’s hen muses that ‘we lay our eggs and they take them away’, while the tortoise warns of the importance of ‘going slow’.
The Kanneh-Masons are superb, applying a light touch that comes from serious musicianship. Pianist Isata jumps and hops along the keyboard in ‘Kangaroo’ and, joined by Konya, glories in the scalic ‘Pianists’. Sheku gets his starring role in ‘The Swan’, and there are appearances by woodwind wonders Adam Walker and Mark Simpson (a charming cuckoo).
The second selection, Grandpa Christmas, describes the love between a granddaughter and grandfather, narrated by Morpurgo and Mariatu, the youngest Kanneh-Mason (aged 11), interspersed by colourful, illustrative pieces such as Grieg’s ‘Little Bird’ (Op. 43 No. 4).
Read more of our reviews of the latest Saint-Saëns recordings here
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