Prokofiev / Peter & The Wolf / Rossi – How Does the Narrator Sound?

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More How Does the Narrator Sound?

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate ANY version of Peter and the Wolf.

The narrator for this piece almost always sounds like he’s in a sound booth, of varying sound quality to be sure. (Bernstein’s narration is one of the worst in this respect, sounding more like Aqualung than Lennie.) 

Somehow Boris Karloff sounds like he is on stage with the orchestra here. He’s either been recorded on stage, or precisely the right amount and kind of reverb has been added to his voice to match the sound of the hall.

He sounds perfectly integrated with the orchestra, a feat none of the other recordings we played managed to accomplish, and at which most failed badly.

And did I mention that it was made in 1957? You couldn’t even buy it on stereo disc back then!

In addition to the unerringly correct timbre of every instrument in the soundfield, the overall presentation is exceptionally spacious, open and three-dimensional, with an unusually extended top (the lack of which often badly hurts vintage pressings). The bottom goes very deep as well; watch for it when the bass drum comes into play. (Prokofiev sure loved his bass drums — sometimes there are three — and god bless him for it!)

Zero smear as well, something we would not expect from an all-tube 1957 recording, having played them by the hundreds in any given year. (We cannot date the Vanguard label accurately, and we think the cutting amps may be transistor, which usually works out to be the best of both worlds in our experience.)

A Knockout

When you hear the bassoon or clarinet or oboe playing their solo parts on this record you should be knocked out by how real those instruments sound. Man, this is analog at its best. You will have an impossible time finding this piece of music recorded, mastered and pressed with better sound than on this very side one.

That makes this pressing both a superb Demo Disc as well as a top quality Audio Test Disc.

Your Guard Against Phony Hi-Fi sound

As you make changes to your setup, equipment, room, electrical system and who knows what else (we’re hoping you do; it can make all your Hot Stampers even hotter), this record will show you the progress you are making, as well as keep you on the straight and narrow. If you know anything about audio, you know that it’s easy to go off the rails. Happens to the best of us. That’s why it’s essential to have records like this one handy, to help you get back on the right path should some hi-fi-ish sounding something-or-other make itself appealing to you in an unguarded moment (to mix yet another metaphor).



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

Check out our new section: The Better Records Hall of Fame for Orchestral Music.

We have a section for all the Classical Records we have reviewed on the site to date.

We also have a section for all the Heavy Vinyl Classical Records we have reviewed on the site.

We have a number of Commentaries specifically addressing issues we’ve encountered when playing classical recordings.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Peter and the Wolf

Side Two

Lt. Kije

Description by Alexander Carpenter

Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, for narrator and orchestra, was a commission from the Central Children’s Theatre in 1936. The composer himself wrote the text, which tells the story of a young boy who manages to capture a vicious wolf. The piece is remarkable for many reasons, but perhaps most notably for its didactic scoring, designed by Prokofiev to introduce children to the sounds of orchestral instruments.

The instrumentation is also important for the narration, since each character in the story is represented by a different instrument: the bird by a flute, the duck by an oboe, the grandfather by a bassoon, the cat by a clarinet, the wolf by three horns, and Peter by the strings. The entire work was composed in a single week (in piano score), and the orchestration was completed less than two weeks later.

Prokofiev’s writing is intentionally direct and transparent, reflecting his desire to make the work enjoyable for children. His musical characterizations are broad and straightforward, from the delicate birdsong of the flute, to the thunderous kettledrums portraying the hunters’ rifle shots.

The work is in three sections, loosely following a kind of sonata form. The opening section introduces the main characters, preparing the audience for the action to come. The middle section–the “development”–contains the most exciting action, beginning with the appearance of the wolf, his eating of the duck, and his eventual capture by young Peter. The final scene acts as a recapitulation, as the principal characters return for a final parade; here, Peter’s opening theme returns transformed into a triumphant march.

Like most of Prokofiev’s music, Peter and the Wolf features adroit thematic integration and development. Peter’s theme, the dominant theme of the work, is stated at the beginning of the piece, and is then combined with other subordinate themes. This thematic blending is also closely tied to the dramatic action, underscoring developments in the story.

Harmonically, the piece begins and ends in C major, but contains many sudden harmonic shifts, another important aspect of Prokofiev’s style. Formally, though the piece does follow a loose sonata structure, it is by no means a case of textbook form; themes develop freely, harmonic direction is dictated largely by the action, and characterization assumes priority over any kind of academic musical construction.

Peter and the Wolf has long been a classic, loved by children for its vivid storytelling, and by adults for its gentle sense of humor and good-natured tunefulness. It was composed 22 years after a similar piece, The Ugly Duckling of 1914-1915, which also features humorous musical sketches of animals. It also bears comparison with Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which also seeks to acquaint children with the sounds of the symphony.