CD Review : Children’s Classic Songs

Roderick Williams Baritone
Elizabeth Atherton Soprano
Iain Burnside Piano

This is the first time we have reviewed a CD in the Webmag, and so it is a pleasure to say that this CD is most enjoyable. It is important to say what it is and what it is not, however.

There is a total of thirty-five tracks, ranging in length from a 28-second snippet to one that lasts a full 4 minutes 52 seconds. The songs were mostly written in the late nineteenth century and set to music in the early twentieth century, but they range from a traditional song to writers as recent as Spike Milligan. The poems were written for children and a lot of them are whimsy or nonsense. Many of them are well-known, such They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace, but there were one or two we hadn’t come across before, such as the jolly Mr Kartoffel, and Spike’s  Chocolate Mouse.

The CD is not for little children to sing-along to, as the title might suggest. The arrangements are subtle and witty, written by classical musicians, and the outcome is more a CD for adults than children.

The quality of many of the performances is brilliant. Iain Burnside’s accompaniment is perfect, contributing to the overall effect without ever dominating the singers. Using a variety of accents, Roderick Williams’s style suits the songs well, ranging from the jokey to the spooky, with A Smuggler’s Song being quite scary. We doubt whether their version of The Owl and the Pussy-cat  could be bettered; it keeps ringing in our ears, having played it a few times.

Roderick Williams’s phrasing and diction are absolutely spot on as well. The diction is important, partly because of the nature of the verse, which often relies on rhymes and word-play, but also because no text of the poems was enclosed. This was unfortunate, because some of Elizabeth Atherton’s songs are less clear, and we still don’t know what Pancake Tuesday was about, though the full text is available on .

Simon and Philip Machin both contributed useful notes, respectively about The Land of Enchantment and The Songs. Simon’s piece is an interesting account of the way that children’s writing developed from Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll through Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling and Kenneth Grahame to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, while Philip’s notes give details of the background of the individual songs.

The CD is worth buying for the music, but the assumptions and ideas in the songs also speak volumes about writing for children over the last hundred and fifty years, and about what adults have thought children will find amusing.

Just Accord Music    JUSCD003    October 2006


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