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Animals in Music
Full track-listing at end of review
rec. 1988-2013, various venues.
NAXOS 8.578281-82 [73:02 + 75:03]

There is a lot of terrific music on this imaginatively programmed pair of discs. It’s the sort of issue that will appeal very strongly to, for example, primary school teachers with assemblies or class music lessons in mind while also being entertaining to listen to purely for its own sake.
The criteria for choosing the items have had to be pretty broad. Some pieces are great examples of musical description or characterisation; others have a much more tenuous link with the animal kingdom. Into the first category come, naturally, perennial favourites like Saint-Saëns’ ‘Carnival of the Animals’ and Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’; but also Mussorgsky’s ‘Ballet of Unhatched Chicks’, Delius’s ‘On Hearing the First Cuckoo’ and Sibelius’s ‘Swan of Tuonela’. All of these are brief enough and vivid enough to appeal strongly to young listeners. The same can’t really be said – in terms of brevity at any rate - for Messiaen’s four ‘bird’ pieces, two from the ‘Catalogues’ and two from the ‘Petites Esquisses’. I support their inclusion nonetheless as they are so remarkable in their way, and the particular movements that have been chosen are excellent examples of Messiaen’s method.
Then into the ‘tenuous’ bracket come Milhaud’s ‘Le Boeuf sur le Toit’, which has little to do with oxen or roofs, as it refers to a notorious bar in Paris frequented by the composer. Add to this Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet, which is simply variations on his song ‘Die Forelle’; and the finale of Mozart’s ‘Musical Joke’, included presumably because of its connection with horsy programmes on television. Never mind, they are all worth hearing, though I would caution against presenting the last of these as generally representative of Mozart’s music.
There are some pleasing novelties too. Harald Sæverud is an important Norwegian symphonist, though represented here by the tiny but cunningly descriptive piano piece ‘The Hare and the Fox’. How much music do we get to hear by contemporary female Italian composers? Not very much is the answer, so it’s great to encounter ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ from ‘Favole’ (‘Stories’) by Elisabetta Brusa.
All the performances are up to the high standards we expect from Naxos, and there are brief explanatory notes about each work. One or two of these are a little wide of the mark; Vaughan Williams’ ‘Wasps’ Overture, we are told ‘…evokes the dramatic buzzing of bees’. Er, I’d say the clue was in the title, wouldn’t you?
Gwyn Parry-Jones
Full Track-Listing
CD 1
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Wasps: Overture [9:28]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kees Bakels
from NAXOS 8.550734
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Organ Concerto No.13 in F major, HWV295, “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale”[3:17]
John Artore (organ), Handel Festival Chamber Orchestra/John Tinge
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces, Book 3, op.43, IV. Vöglein (Little Bird) [1:42]
Balász Szokolay (piano)
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Breiner), V. Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells [1:16]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Peter Breiner
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Průvod koček v noci slunovratu (Procession of the Cats on Solstice Night) [1:06]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons: Violin Concerto in E major, op.8, No.1, RV 269, ‘La Primavera (‘Spring’), II. Largo e pianissimo sempre [2:37]
Takako Nishizaki (violin), Capella Istropolitana/Stephen Gunzenhauser
Edvard GRIEG
25 Norwegian Folk Songs and Dances, op.17
VIII. Grisen (The Pig) [0:37]
XII. Solfager og ormekongen (Solfager and the Snake King) [1:45]
XVII. Kleggen og Fluga (The Horsefly and the Fly) [1:05]
XXII. Kulok (Cow Call) [1:06]
XXV. Rabnabryllup (The Raven’s Wedding) [1:24]
Einar Steen-Nøkleberg (piano)
Harald SÆVERUD (1897-1992)
Haren og reven (The Hare and the Fox) [1:18]
Einar Steen-Nøkleberg (piano)
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Two Pieces for Small Orchestra, 1. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring [5:49]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones
Darius MILHAUD (1797-1828)
Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof), op.58 [16:16]
Orchestra National de Lille-Région Nord/Pas de Calais/Jean-Claude Casadesus
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Quintet in A major, op.114, Die Forelle (‘The Trout’), IV. Theme with Variations, Andantino [7:11]
Jenö Jandó (piano), Kodály Quartet, István Tóth (double-bass)
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Peter and the Wolf, op.67
II. The Bird [1:12]
III. The Duck [1:57]
XI. The Wolf Swallows the Duck [0:40]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ondrej Lenárd
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Catalogue d’oiseaux (Catalogue of Birds)
Book 1: II. Le Loriot (Golden Oriole) [8:57]
Book III: V. La Chouette Hulotte (Tawny Owl) [7:23]
Håkon Austbø (piano)
Nikolay RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
The Tale of Tsar Saltan – Flight of the Bumble-Bee
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Bramall
CD 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no.6 in F major, op.68, ‘Pastoral’
II. Scene by the Brook: Andante molto mosso
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Michael Halász
Petites esquisses d’oiseaux (Little Sketches of Birds)
I. Le Rouge-gorge (Robin) [2:23]
II. Le merle-noir (Blackbird) [2:13]
Håkon Austbø (piano)
The Lark Ascending [14:59]
David Greed (violin), English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Elisabetta BRUSA (b.1954)
Favole. III. The Ant and the Grasshopper [2:12]
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Fabio Mastrangelo
Edvard GRIEG
Lyric Pieces, Book 3, op.43, I. Schmetterling (Butterfly) [1:39]
Balász Szokolay (piano)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimento in F major, K.522, ‘Ein Musikalischer Spass’ (‘A Musical Joke’)
IV. Presto [5:05]
Jenö Keveházi (horn), Kodály Quartet
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
L’histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant (extract) [1:16]
Alexandre Tharaud (piano)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Lemminkäinen Suite, op.22
II. The Swan of Tuonela [8:49]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Schermerhorn
Flute Concerto in D, op.10 no.3, RV 428, ‘Il cardellino’ (‘The Goldfinch’)
I. Allegro [3:45]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Carnival of the Animals [23:39]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ondrej Lenárd