Babar the Elephant!

NI1571 cover

POULENC: Histoire de Babar, le Petit Elephant / Miriam Margoyles, narr; Simon Callaghan, pno / Nimbus NI1571

Finally, an album that everyone can enjoy. I mean, who doesn’t like at least some of Francis Poulenc’s music? I’ve not met that person. And what could be more fun than a story for children, written spontaneously for his cousin’s children out of the goodness of his heart? It doesn’t get any better than this.

When I was a teenager going to high school, I would sometimes stop in the Woolworth’s in Passaic, New Jersey to rummage over the remaindered books they sold. Among them were two series of books from France, happily translated into English. One series covered The Adventures of Tintin, a sort of one-boy Hardy Boys, a young detective who solved crimes. The other was Babar the Elephant, which was also quite unknown to me at the time but which I found really charming in its own way. So I feel myself qualified to review this music!

I was quite happy to get a recording narrated in English, which made the story easier for me to follow. I must say, however, that I found Miriam Margoyles’ narration just a bit over-precious. A little less “oh wow” in her voice would have worked better for me.

But there can be no mistaking Simon Callaghan’s excellent pianism. He fully captures the blithe spirit of the music, which is just easy enough to be enjoyed by children though it is far more complex than Prokofiev’s score for Peter and the Wolf. For this reason, however, it has never achieved the widespread popularity of the Prokofiev piece. Hopefully this recording, the first I could find in English since Peter Ustinov’s (with the orchestral version that Poulenc wrote in 1962), will appeal to at least some children whose brains aren’t to rotted out from rock music.

Well worth giving to your favorite 9-year-old (I’d say no younger than that) as a holiday present. And no mention of the Coronavirus!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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