PROKOFIEV: Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67. BEINTUS: Wolf Tracks.
Mikhail Gorbachev, Sophia Loren and Bill Clinton, narrators; Russian National Orch/Kent Negano, cond.
PENTATONE PTC 5186 011 (F) (DDD) TT: 47:50 (5 channel) (HYBRID)

HAYDN: Symphony No. 22 in E Flat "The Philosopher." Symphony No. 44 in E minor "The Philosopher." Symphony No. 64 in A "Tempora mutantur."
Concertgebouw Chamber Orch/Marco Boni, cond.
PENTATONE PTC 5186 016 (F) (DDD) TT: 52:53 (5 channel) (HYBRID)

Pentatone's Peter and the Wolf recording is a project conceived by the Russian National Orchestra and conductor Kent Negano to raise funds for environmental, educational and health organizations with all three narrators donating their royalties to a charity. Prokofiev's score has been recorded countless times; currently available are about two dozen versions with narrators including Sean Connery, Sir John Gielgud, André Previn, Basil Rathbone, Cyril Ritchard, Patrick Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) and Peter Schickele—as well as many deleted recordings including those by Boris Karloff, Beatrice Lillie and Eleanor Roosevelt. Pentatone's new version offers Sophia Loren who offers a charming reading of Prokofiev's popular classic for childrens. Kent Nagano's reading of the score is equal to any; he also conducted the version on Erato narrated by Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame) with the Lyon Opera Orchestra. Pentatone's multi-channel recording is outstanding in its clarity and impact. Everything is in front; it would have been intriguing to have individual channels for the solo instruments, but that doesn't happen. The coupling is a new composition, Wolf Tracks, with music by Jean-Pascal Beintus, text by award-winning broadcast writer Walt Kraemer. In this the wolf isn't the bad guy, just a figure representing the importance of all natural resources. Bill Clinton narrates in his usual husky voice. Mikhail Gorbachev speaks briefly (about 4 minutes total) three times, simultaneously translated, his interludes identified as Prologue, Intermezzo and Epilogue. There's no question that Sophia Loren's reading of the Prokofiev is delightful, but it's unikely anyone would want to hear Clinton's Wolf Tracks more than once. It's an attractive, unusual CD, for a good cause.

The three Haydn symphonies are superbly played by the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra under its conductor Marco Boni. Job Maarse produced these recordings in Hilversum September 2002. The small orchestra is close-up, well-balanced and rich in sound—very, very satisfying indeed. The only debit is that at least one more Haydn symphony easily could have been included: 52:53 isn't much playing time.

R.E.B. (October 2003)