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Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★★ ...here, thanks to Harry Potter actor Miriam Margolyes’s artistry and Simon Callaghan’s excellent pianism, is Poulenc’s delightful musical response. And as I listened to this recording, I found the original drawings reappearing in my mind with all their detail intact – extraordinary. It lasts just 30 minutes, but my god does it resonate.

★ ★ ★ ★★

Anyone who grew up, as I did, on Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar books will find this CD entrancing. For those unfortunates who missed this experience in their early childhood, Babar was a warm-hearted, public-spirited elephant whose elevation to the throne of a realm suspiciously similar to France, and whose gently socialist leadership of that country in war and peace, was made to seem the most natural thing in the world. Brunhoff was a French children’s book author and illustrator whose wife Cécile concocted the story of Babar as a bedtime treat for her two sons; the first Babar book was published in 1931, and it was followed by six further titles in the series.

With their charmingly witty drawings, the books became a cult, and the composer Francis Poulenc was one of the army of fans. What we have here, thanks to Harry Potter actor Miriam Margolyes’s artistry and Simon Callaghan’s excellent pianism, is Poulenc’s delightful musical response. And as I listened to this recording, I found the original drawings reappearing in my mind with all their detail intact – extraordinary. It lasts just 30 minutes, but my god does it resonate.

Michael Church

the-independent
Independent 25 November 2020

The Story of Babar

With Miriam Margolyes (narrator)

A delightful set of circumstances combined to produce the beloved masterpiece, Babar. The journey began in 1930 when Laurent and Mathieu, sons of French author and illustrator Jean de Brunhoff were told an enchanting bedtime story by their mother, Cécile. So moved were the young boys by the curious tale of the young elephant’s adventures, that they asked their father to create illustrations. The resulting book initiated a series that was to be the crowning achievement of Jean de Brunhoff’s short professional life, and that of his son Laurent, who added further volumes following his father’s death in 1937. The children have acknowledged that the story originated with Cécile de Brunhoff, who, feeling that her contribution was too small to be credited, requested that her name be removed from the publications.

In a heart-warmingly similar situation ten years later, Poulenc was spending time with the granddaughter of one of his cousins. Noting that she became bored with the music he was playing, Poulenc put Brunhoff’s Babar on the piano and began to improvise, to the great delight of the young girl. The musical ideas born that day were to simmer away at the back of Poulenc’s mind until he completed the work in 1945. It was premiered on French radio the following year.

Scala Radio Article (4 December 2020)