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Simon's Turnabout LP of Russian Children's Songs Recording Session Photos and Reviews

Unicorn LP cover photo

With John W Bower in the control room at Bishopsgate Hall, 1968



Recording Stravinsky's The Owl and the Pussy-cat







REVIEWS of the Turnabout LP:

THIS IS VERY MUCH a family affair, for not only does the 13-year-old boy soprano Simon Woolf sing this recital, but Dr P Grahame Woolf, his father, contributes the sleeve-notes. appears as pianist (in the Stravinsky) and either translator or reviser of the translation in all cases - except the Stravinsky, a seldom heard setting of Edward Lear in serial technique, would you believe?

This collection of Russian children's songs makes a most attractive programme, covering quite a wide range of compositional styles, and Simon Woolf's performances have extraordinary interpretative maturity. In the fine Mussorgsky song-cycle The Nursery (surely the most remarkable example of a composer's insight into the feelings of childhood) he brings the various characters (adult as well as childish) vividly to life, and sings throughout the disc with exceptional feeling for atmosphere and the meaning of the words, as well as real musical sensitivity. Steuart Bedford's accompaniments are superbly pointed and coloured, and the delightfully tongue-in-cheek Stravinsky is beautifully done by Dr Woolf - - altogether a most auspicious record. JOHN MCCABE (Records & Recording July 1971)

Only a generation ago it would have been almost unheard of for a 13 year-old to attempt music as difficult as Mussorgsky's Nursery and Stravinsky's late, serial setting of The Owl and the Pussy Cat, but the growing generatIon of children seems at home in music that one would think presented all manner of stylistic and still more technical problems.

Simon Woolf is a good example: he is a very musical boy, untroubled alike by Stravinsky's intervals and Mussorgsky's sudden, abrupt, irregular phrases, and gifted with a nice, slightly astringent tone quality. He can vary this more than most trebles, and there is not only only some amusing near-mimicry in The Owl and the Pussy Cat but a real feeling for characterisation in The Nursery and The Ugly Duckling. He has a vivid sense of words, and shows an understanding for the very tricky music on this record that is truly remarkable. - - He sustains the narrative in The Ugly Duckling as if it presented no problem at all. This is imdeed the charm of the record - the sense of an extremely musical boy completely at home in music one would have thought outside a child's range, blithely passing through problems that can enmesh the most expert grown-ups. (J.W. The Gramophone, July 1971)

The first strong point in this record's favour is that of its interesting and entertaining repertoire. The second, to my mind, is that it goes part of the way toward solving the ancient problem of how music for children, assuming it to be written in a convincing idiom - which is seven-eighths of the battle, should be interpreted. As adult performers are conspicuously inept and mainly incapable of re-adjusting themselves to childhood, the answer would seem to be to get a child to do it. But the problem is that there are few children capable of performing such composers as Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky in a way that will please grown-ups; for, such is the topsy-turvy world of 'art' song that music 'for children' is rarely childlike or childish. In most ways the solution is with us for Simon Woolf (aged 13 when this record was made) has a remark­able mature interpretative capacity, yet has a delightfully fresh young voice and should prove able to bridge the generation gap and make the songs pleasurable to young and old alike.

For the first time, I have really enjoyed The Nursery. Previously it has seemed arch and contrived. Now here is a real and fairly nasty little boy, rather spoilt and snappy, actually singing the pieces in character - and with great skill into the bargain. Amazing, too, how modern the music sounds: is it the association with the boy's voice, but it sounds very Brittenish at times.

The Kabalevsky Nursery rhymes are uncomplicated and easily enjoyable and do not stray far from the traditional versions that we know. Again Simon Woolf's voice is ideally cast. Likewise in the three Prokofiev Children's songs and in Stravinsky's light, gay and clever, serial setting of The Owl and the Pussycat; Stravinsky himself had high praise for the singer's per­formance having written it with a boy's voice as the ideal in mind. The Ugly Duckling, in the original piano version of 1914, is beautifully handled. A special word of praise for Steuart Bedford's accompaniments which are extremely lively and entertaining in themselves. He manages to steer the proceedings without in the least seeming to, and the piano is well balanced and recorded. The only slight criticism is that the words are sometimes not quite clear; otherwise it is all very entertaining and accomplished [A: 1]. Peter Gammond (Hi-Fi News & Record Review, July 1971)


© Peter Grahame Woolf