Friday, October 31, 2014

CD Review: Gertrude McFuzz and The Polar Express

One of the delights of being considered a member of the music press is receiving advance copies of new recordings in the hope that I'll write about them. Such is the case with a new recording of Rob Kapilow's settings of Dr. Seuss's Gertrude McFuzz and Chris von Allsburg's story The Polar Express. Both pieces are favorites in the "family music" repertoire for young people's concerts, and it's a delight to hear them both and write about the performances on this CD.

The Boston Globe calls these pieces “The most popular ‘family music’ since Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra".' The Star Ledger (Newark, NJ) raves about Kapilow's music:
Every time you turn around, Kapilow is pulling another rabbit out of another hat.... There’s so much going on that our intrepid little concert-goers have no time to get bored.... The music never loses its atmosphere of slam-bam zaniness. Musically, the score stands up marvelously well — it’s clever and bright, there’s never a dull moment....
Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard sings the story of Gertrude McFuzz, a clever young bird who wants more feathers to become more beautiful. She learns beauty comes at a price, and eventually regains her former form in order to be able to fly. This piece is full of fun, and easily accessible to young listeners.

Baritone Nathan Gunn sings The Polar Express, the story of a young boy who learns there actually is a Santa Claus by taking a trip on the Polar Express, a train to the North Pole. This is the longer of the two pieces, full of descriptive language about the journey and what the boy finds at the end of it. On hearing the story, one's mind is full of beautiful images of snow and magic and joy.

Both singers are very accomplished in the opera world. They both sing these pieces with great love and care to phrasing and text, and there didn't seem to be a single word I couldn't understand. That is great praise for any singer, in my book!

I think this CD would be a great holiday gift for any child who loves a good story, who loves singing, or who loves fun. I recommend it highly.

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