Kids CD reviews
Even though some kids are so musically inclined that they are able to take in Mozart and Beethoven pure and unabridged, most young listeners do better with classics once they get a little verbal support to go with the music.
The easiest way to provide this support to them is through a classical sing along CD with lyrics easy enough to remember and easy enough to step away from, once the listeners feel ready to stay one on one with the music. Ironically, facilitating the classical listening process for children is a tough task for CD creators. Their main challenge lies in finding a perfect balance between the music and the lyrics and most importantly, in their proportion in the CD.
The latest addition to the popular Beethoven’s Wig CD series, Sing Along Piano Classics, created and performed by Richard Perlmutter, consists of two traditional parts. Part 1 offers thirteen sing alongs featuring well-known works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Mussorgsky and their younger successors Schoenberg, Cowel and Joplin. Part 2 is devoted to the same works, performed on the piano, without the lyrics.
Indeed, some of Perlmutter’s songs are quite compelling. His “Minuet for My Pet”, sung to Beethoven’s “Minuet in G” is touching and adorable beyond words, and his version of Joplin’s “Entertainer”, called “A Piano Is Stuck in the Door”, definitely the hit of the CD, adds even more catchiness to the original and deserves an extra credit for its witty lyrics.
However, in his effort to make his sing-alongs worth remembering, Perlmutter tends to overload them with contents, thus forcing the listeners to focus on the words rather than the music. It seems hard to embrace the beauty of Brahms’ timeless Lullaby, which tells a story of a fly that bugs the poor boy and does not let him fall asleep. It is even harder to enjoy Mozart’s glorious Alla Turca in Perlmutter’s wordy interpretation “Mozart Makes Kids Smart”, which sounds much more like an educational commercial for Mozart’s music, rather than a classical sing along.
If music is all about what you feel rather than what you think, I have to say that there is a bit too much thinking involved in listening to this CD. Even though there is a certain educational aspect to Perlmutter’s sing alongs, as they ignite the child’s curiosity and push him or her towards the right things to like, see, and listen to, it would be preferable if young listeners were still given some time and space to experience emotions that classical music brings to human hearts.
3rd January 2012
I have always believed that no composer is a better role model for aspiring musicians than Handel and that no music makes the introduction to classics more smooth and enjoyable than his Water Music. Whether you are a complete novice to the classical world or a professional musician, a truck driver or a philosopher, Handel’s music will find its way to your heart. Personally I feel certain that you must not judge classical music until you have heard Handel’s Alla Hornpipe, the piece known to spread beauty, happiness and energy of youth whenever it is performed.
Bonnie and Stephen Simon, the creators of My Name Is Handel CD, would probably second that statement, as their latest addition to the “Stories in Music” series devoted to Handel’s Water Music is centered around that particular piece.
Featuring popular selections from Handel’s greatest works performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Simon, this CD offers a multi-level and highly entertaining insight of the composer’s life, reviving the golden hour of his career: the 1717 premiere of the Water Music.
Even though originally this CD was created for ages 7 and up, it is just perfect for family listening with no age limits in either direction. Thanks to an enchanting and very expressive narrative by Yadu, listeners will get carried away by the feature story of the Water Music creation and its glorious Thames performance. Moreover, they will even have a chance to sneak inside the royal barge and overhear a very special conversation between the great English composer and his most powerful fan, King George I.
Older audiences will find Maestro Simon’s brief follow-up discussion unimposing, yet most helpful in understanding the main music genres of Handel’s days. Not only does this discussion open a door into the world of Baroque music, but also it inspires the listeners to explore the subject further on as they turn to the colorful booklet that comes with the CD.
Boasting a variety of ink-and-watercolor illustrations, this elegant booklet takes us on a brief tour of Handel’s London, as we embrace its music and architecture, and even take a look at its peculiar “chair” carriages. However, it is not until the middle of the booklet that we discover its real treasure: a simplified score of the glorious Alla Hornpipe, turned into a hit sing-along, called My Name Is Handel. Consisting of only four simple lines, this catchy song is sure to win the heart of any listener, including the youngest one. In fact, my three-year-old demonstrated a truly Handelian persistence as he asked to listen to it over and over again, until he was ready to sing it. We had a real blast “playing theater” while singing and accompanying on the piano at the same time.
Needless to say, My Name Is Handel will make a perfect gift for every music lover, no matter what age they may be or what level of musical preparation they may have. However, most importantly, this CD clearly proves that classical family listening does not have to be boring. Apparently, with the right CD, it can be a lot of fun!
29th December 2011
With the beautiful music of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade in the background, a wacky Grandma Dingley begins to tell the tale with the help of Brian Blessed, Rory Bremner and a huge contribution from Jess Murphy who excels as the lovely heroine of the tale. Although parts of the story might well confuse younger children, the story is very well paced and lets the audience understand the ebb and flow of the music while giving them no time whatsoever to be bored.
We trialled the CD on the youngest reviewers we’ve yet used - four year old twin boys. They were patently too young to listen all the way through but found Rory Bremner as the narrator funny and loved the pirates too. Our reviewers’ Mum thought the way the voices occasionally sang the orchestral tunes was hilarious.
The set on offer is two CDs, the first with the story overlaid and the second, purely the orchestral music without voices or commentary. This isn’t obvious from the packaging as the two CDs look identical when you open the set. It would also be useful to offer ways that teachers or parents could work with the CDs - listening to a snippet at a time and asking questions about it or trying to identify the sound of the sea in the music and to hear the various themes. Our young reviewers were asked and did succeed in picking out the princess’s tune when they heard it on the second CD so this proved a successful trial of teaching the music to very young children.
For me there was a sense of relief in listening to the second disc, with a beautifully performed, well recorded Sheherazade, because the story does become frantic in parts but I recognise that helps its appeal for a young audience and leaves a strong imprint of the story after the 45 minute tale has ended.
24th April 2011
Introducing children to music doesn't have to be a painful experience with parents putting on their child's CD and running from the room so they don't have to listen to patronizing voices singing “Hickery, Dickery Dock” to the accompaniment of dodgy keyboards. I think real music should be offered to children from the very start enabling parents and children to enjoy listening together. All the tunes on both these CDs are performed to the accompaniment of real instruments by professional musicians and the CD is produced to a high standard of audio quality.
Sometimes it's not easy introducing children to classical music, particularly if you're not the sort of person who will sit down and listen to music without trying to do something else at the same time. If you recognise this description (for you or for your children) you may well be interested in the "Beethoven's Wig" series of CDs which offers 20 tracks of well known pieces set to very funny words. It's perfect for listening in the car as you can hear a track or two on a short journey rather than needing a long time in which to concentrate all in one go. Like all the rest of my recommendations, they're fun for you as well as the children!
I have struggled with my conscience for some time about making recommendations for music for toddlers. The truth is that tiny children adore catchy simple tunes they can sing along to, and classical music is not the first music to which I would introduce a lively toddler. But if you love classical music you may need a bridge to it for these little people. When I looked around for music to play to the children, particularly in the car, I faced a major problem. Many companies have produced CDs of nursery rhymes which cannot be listened to more than once without feeling carsick oneself. And with little children, if they do like what they hear, you are going to have to listen to it over and over again so finding a decent music CD is vital to one's sanity!
This CD succeeds in giving people new to opera (and I don't think it should be restricted to children) the chance to listen to first class recordings of well known and catchy arias, in English, from a selection of Operas. These are performed by the Budapest Concert Orchestra and a series of singers who succeed in performing the songs so that you can hear each word. The fact that they have been sung in English enables a listener to understand the lyrics, which goes a long way to helping one appreciate them. In particular Papageno's Song from the Magic Flute and the Doll Song from Tales of Hoffman really benefit from their translation which has been done sensitively by librettist Daniel Libman.
What sets this CD apart from many other compilations is the first class quality of both the orchestra and the individual singers. Often people who are new to opera or classical music are fobbed off with a poor recording or a mediocre interpretation, so unsurprisingly they fail to understand what other people rave about. This CD gives the listener the best possible chance to enjoy the arias. When you listen to the arias you realise clearly that the operas were popular partly because they contained songs that were so memorable. There are two arias on the selection where the words are difficult to understand, and one must resort to the accompanying lyrics. These were the Ride of the Valkyries and Ombra Mai Fù but in each case there were good reasons to include them: for the beauty of the music in the former, and the opportunity to showcase a counter-tenor voice, in this case the wonderful voice of Daniel Taylor, in the latter. For me, the music prizes go to Aline Kutan as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, Brian Banion as Escamillo in the Toreador's Song from Carmen, and Michael Schade as Duke of Mantua in La Donna è Mobile from Rigoletto.
After fourteen arias with words in English, there are instrumental versions of four of those arias which provide the opportunity for listeners to sing along with the Orchestra in “karaoke” style, with the lyrics provided separately. Anyone wanting to start on Opera or trying to encourage a child to listen will find this CD a very useful tool indeed.
For an introduction to Opera for people of all ages click here.
2nd August 2008
This DVD of Peter and the Wolf, produced by Breakthru Films and Arthaus Music, won an Oscar, deservedly in my opinion, in 2008 for the best animated short film. The animation uses stop-frame model animation made popular by the Wallace & Gromit creators and was produced by Breakthru films, using Polish animation company Se-ma-For Studios puppet animation.
For the past 70 years the most recent music and narrative composed specifically for children was Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf in 1936 written for his own children. Finally there is something new and modern for children to listen to, which might just open the world of classical music for them. Misterstourworm and the Kelpie's Gift is a very exciting recording of a work composed by Savourna Stevenson in 2003 and performed once that year. It brings together the Orchestra of Scottish Opera with narrative by Stuart Paterson and offers a blend of sweetness and darkness that turn the best fairy tales into favourites. Flute and harp create a magical harmony evoking faeries and stardust, while the frightening power of the monster come through strongly through the deep brass instruments.