Released: 24th June 2013
Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokoviev is one of the best loved pieces of children's music in the world. Although known by millions, far fewer people realise that the piece had its origins in a canny slice of Stalinist-era Soviet Propaganda. In 1936 Sergei Prokofiev was commissioned by Natalya Sats and the Central Children's Theatre in Moscow to write a new musical symphony for children. The intent was to cultivate "musical tastes in children from the first years of school". Intrigued by the invitation, Prokofiev completed Peter and the Wolf in just four days. The original story tells of the adventures of the eponymous Peter, a 'Young Pioneer' (a sort of Communist boy scout) and his friends; a bird, a duck and a cat, and of what happens when they interact with a wild canid of the species Canis lupus. It was intended to show the resourcefulness and courage which all young people acquire from a spell in the Young Pioneers, and the wolf (who ends up tied up, and sent to a zoo after Peter saves his life) is very probably symbolic of the forces of counter-revolutionary reactionism (or something like that). The first performance of the story back in 1936 was inauspicious to say the least. In the composer's own words: "...[attendance] was poor and failed to attract much attention". Over the years there have been many recorded versions of the piece, starting with a 1939 recording by Richard Hale with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and continuing out throughout the cultural landscape of both sides of the quondam Iron Curtain like ripples on the ocean after someone has lobbed a nice big stone into it. There have been several adaptations of the piece featuring rock musicians, most notably one narrated by David Bowie (who insisted on changing the script because he thought that children would prefer that the hunters were armed with shotguns rather than rifles. Gonzo Multimedia are just about to reissue an unjustifiably obscure version from 1975. Masterminded by Robin Lumley and Jack Lancaster it is a truly rocking adaptation Their music makes use of some of Prokofiev's original themes. Along with Vivian Stanshall as the narrator, the staff is illustrious (among others Gary Moore, Manfred Mann, Phil Collins, Bill Bruford, Stéphane Grappelli, Alvin Lee,Cozy Powell, Brian Eno, Jon Hiseman); the music is very heterogeneous: from psychedelic rock music to jazz (Grappelli's violin solo on the motif of the cat). It works surprisingly well, two aspects in particular working – to my mind – better than in any other version. Firstly, the section where the wolf swallows the duck is truly terrifying. The music is truly brutal, and Viv Stanshall is just as good as one might have hoped. And secondly, the ending. On most versions the listener is told that "if you listen very carefully, you'd hear the duck quacking inside the wolf's belly, because the wolf in his hurry had swallowed her alive." As a child, and even as an adult I found that to be immensely disturbing. The idea of the poor bloody duck being slowly dissolved by the wolf's gastric juices was not the sort of concept that I would want my children to hear about. On the other hand, the 1946 Disney version that had the duck just hiding in a tree was not only a reversal of the concept of the story, but also didn't really make much sense. The version on this album which has the imprisoned wolf opening its mouth and the duck hopping out is both child friendly, and true enough to the original concept not to be a major conceptual irritant. This is a jolly good album, and some of the playing on it is absolutely extraordinary. Would I play it to my kids? Hell yeah. Would I listen to it myself? What do you think I am doing now? JON DOWNES.
Progressive Rock & Progressive Metal - E-Zine