WORKS: Carnival of the Animals
PERFORMER: Johnny Morris (narrator); Slovak RSO/Ondrej Lenárd, Kenneth Jean
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554463
It must have seemed like a good idea to ask Johnny Morris, much loved presenter of Animal Magic, to read his own script for Carnival of the Animals. But the result is wide of the mark. Saint-Saëns’s zoological fantasy may be a joke, but it was never intended as a vehicle for narration.
Using an old and somewhat lacklustre recording of the music, Naxos have inserted the words quite tastefully, but the momentum suffers and the resulting collage is awkward and ponderous. Morris’s lumbering doggerel (‘as an instructor of PT, that’s what a kangaroo should be’) merely blunts the sharpness of the musical satire.
He was brave to sing, or rather croon, to the tortoise’s doleful tune, but bravery alone cannot make up for what amounts to a serious lapse of taste.
Redemption of a sort comes with Ravel and Dukas. Morris is not the clearest of readers, but he tells the simple stories from the Mother Goose Suite with evident affection, each story coming as a preface to the music. These amount to little more than spoken programme notes, and as such they are much more effective. So too is the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. To these fairy-tales my five-year-old son listened avidly, but he reckoned the Carnival was ‘boring’ – he would rather hear ‘just the music’. Christopher Lambton