Peter and the Wolf
by Gavin Friday and the Friday-Seezer Ensemble
Published by Bloomsbury
64 pages & CD, 2003
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Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
It's possible you have never heard of Gavin Friday -- I hadn't, till I got this album -- but you have almost certainly heard his music at some stage. He composed the score for a number of films, including The Boxer, In The Name Of The Father (both with Daniel Day-Lewis) and Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet. This modern Irish musician has been performing, recording and composing for some years.
On Peter and the Wolf, which is donating its profits to the Irish Hospice Fund, Friday and his musical collaborator, Maurice Seezer, have turned their talents and energies to classical music: Serge Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, composed in 1936 as an introduction to the orchestra for children. Fellow Irish performer Bono of U2 contributes to the production, but not, interestingly, as a musician. Bono and his daughters are responsible for the charming paintings illustrating the accompanying book. The whole thing comes in a boxed set small enough for a child to hold.
It has become fashionable for celebrities to narrate this piece. Everyone from David Bowie to Dame Edna Everage (a.k.a. Barry Humphries) has had a go. It is too easy to sigh, "Oh, not another version!" and dismiss it. And that would be a pity, because unlike the many other versions available, the point of this one is not who is doing the narrating but the musical arrangement. Friday and Seezer decided to use musicians experienced in classical music, jazz and rock.
Gavin Friday realizes that Peter And The Wolf was written with children in mind and respects this fact. The instruments representing the various characters -- a flute for the bird, for example -- are the familiar ones and the score is quite recognizable. But he felt that this was no reason to have to use an entire orchestra, so he has created a version that can be played in a more intimate manner, and, while he's about it, modernized a little. I have never heard a banjo or a mandolin played in this piece, but they work, as does the piano accordion. Purists might not be impressed, but it all comes together. Children should be enchanted, too.
The script also seems to have been modernized somewhat ("Caught by the tail, the wolf went mental..."). It could jar, but it doesn't. The music and narration are both a delight, as is the book, which is a nice picture book in its own right.
There is only a brief introduction by the composer on the cover of the CD, explaining the ideas behind the arrangement. You have to turn on your computer, if you have one, to find out any more. The requirements are not major -- just about anything from Windows 95, or Macintosh System 7.5 up will open it for you. The CD is enhanced, enabling you to look at some information about the musicians, see a gallery of photos surrounded by drawings of the characters and falling animated leaves, or you can watch something labeled "The making of Peter And The Wolf," which isn't really a documentary as such but rather an enjoyable look at the artists painting a huge mural which was later reduced to make the illustrations for the book. We're also shown the musicians doing little snippets of recording and rehearsing, but there is no real commentary or discussion of the ideas behind the project. I wouldn't have minded a little more printed information with the album itself. Though, for children, the music and delightful little book will do just fine.
I'd planned to give this to my five-year-old nephew when I'd done my review, but I'll have to buy him another copy, dammit. He can't have mine. | December 2003
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.