Prokofiev • Saint-Saëns
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf; Rawsthorne: Practical Cats; Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
Alexander Armstrong (narrator); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Warner Classics 9029575952
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 sprechgesang recitation. 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…