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Cat. No. CHAN 10352 Price: £9 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10352 - McNeff: Four Tales from Beatrix Potter™
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The songs, settings and incidental music on this CD are a remarkable tribute to one of the world’s most popular children’s storytellers, Beatrix Potter (1866–1943). Her tales of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-duck, Squirrel Nutkin, and Samuel Whiskers were recently adapted for the stage by Adrian Mitchell, one of Britain’s favourite poets and dramatists, as a commission for the Unicorn Theatre for Children. Mitchell shaped twelve of Potter’s familiar stories into three separate productions with a narrator playing the part of Beatrix. In this recording the role is taken by Imelda Staunton who personifies a diverse cast in narration and song. At the heart of these exuberant shows was the music of Stephen McNeff. Describing the inner life of Potter’s creations, the music also captured the particularity of the landscapes that haunted Potter’s imagination. While only seven musicians performed during the stage shows, McNeff’s lush orchestration for the BBC Concert Orchestra reveals all the latent colours, shades and tonal moods of his original score. The essence of the stage production was its faithfulness to the artistic spirit of Beatrix Potter. Her apparently simple tales are rich in curiosity and the elusive search for happiness and identity. McNeff’s music contains the complexity and nuances of Potter’s world. It also catches the fun, spontaneity and silliness of her characters with their recognisable foibles. Able to tell a child a story that had the merits of accuracy (from a painstaking study of botany and biology) and truth (as an observant student of animal and human behaviour), Potter wrote from a perspective laced with ambiguity and paradox. Her voice carried that special English tone in which understatement is married to precision. McNeff’s score for Beatrix Potter’s tales never veers into sentimentality but both satisfies and surprises us by remaining true to the spirit of the original tales.

Stephen McNeff provided thoroughly approachable incidental music and simple songs, evoking the countryside atmosphere and characterising the various animals with catchy themes – most particularly that for Jemima Puddle-Duck. For this recording McNeff has expanded his original setting for seven musicians into a lush orchestral tapestry, supporting Imelda Staunton’s narration in which she manages to depict the different animals with a varied ranges of voices that becomes a tour de force in the closing Tale of Samuel Whiskers. Her wholly friendly presentation should readily appeal to its intended audience.


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