Overture to music appreciation
CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS. CD and book. by Barrie Carson Turner. Macmillian. pound;12.99
Tom Deveson reviews two CDs that strike just the right note to arouse interest in instruments
Mozart and Nestle in combination might suggest a bonbon rather too refined for some children's tastes. It is good to report that this pack - designed particularly for use at after-school clubs - manages to evoke rather more fun aspects of classical music than might be offered in a refined salon.
The London Mozart Players have recorded a CD containing works not only by their champion (including A Musical Joke) but also by composers such as Rossini and Greig. There are also a number of popular hits arranged for orchestra, including the themes from The Third Man and Never On Sunday.
A brief range of extracts features many of the instruments showing off their tricks: the violin performing a reel and some bravura passage work, the clarinet slipping and sliding through enigmatic moods, the viola and the bassoon moving between the melancholy and the cantankerous.
The booklet makes many suggestions for short and relatively unchallenging activities that can be organised with the music. These include singing along, conducting, adding spoken texts and writing lyrics. A hat rondo (with Mozart) is a new idea; it involves swapping weird items of headgear to match the progressions of the piece. A shadow dance in Harry Lime's Vienna with an artful viola solo is also an interesting notion. The activities are not all original enough to make the pack worth buying for them alone, but with a generous helping of varied music it is certainly worth a look.
The Carnival of the Animals is making another reappearance, but Barrie Carson Turner's treatment with Sue Williams's colour pictures adds up more to a revival than an embarrassment. After brief introductions on the nature of the orchestra and the sounds involved in Saint-Saens's inventive instrumentation, we are given a pleasant story that links the parade of beasts. It will appeal to children aged between seven and eleven.
Each episode is interpreted as a segment of fiction and simultaneously analysed, briefly but clearly, as a piece of musical organisation. Melodic episodes are translated into metaphors or descriptive statements which illuminate the piece simply but effectively. For example, the Aquarium movement is about "the rainbow colours of the fish" played by the flute and strings in a "high soft tune", the pianos represent "gentle waves rippling across the water" and the glockenspiel is like "sunlight glittering on the waves".
This is really the old style of concert programme, with all its associated philosophical and aesthetic problems, but it works here. The pictures combine animals and instruments in bright extravagant compositions. Sombre violins lie on a sandy shore looking like the tortoises they depict; elephants and a double-bass dance in a green savannah; dinosaur fossils and a xylophone frolic in a moonlit, purple-skied cloudscape. Even those for whom the Carnival is commonplace will enjoy this, and newcomers will find it a pleasant introduction to what still remains a most imaginative work.
* Kids' Club Network (Trading), Bellerive House, 3 Muirfield Crescent, London E14 9SZ. Tel: 0171 512 2112