Mário Rossi

Peter and the Wolf/Lieutenant Kije Sui

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There are many recordings of Prokofiev's Peter & the Wolf read by celebrities; so many that a major scholar of recorded sound history spent two years compiling a listing of all of them. Actually, that wasn't just limited to celebrity recordings, but non-instrument playing actors, politicians, local TV show hosts, and other notables make up a large part of the listing. The rendition made in 1957 for Vanguard Classics by Boris Karloff figures prominently among the multitude of recorded versions; Karloff's voice is a perfect fit for Prokofiev's rather dark story, and he definitely loved entertaining kids. This recording probably came as a bright spot for the 70-year-old actor, unless one considers the abysmal Reginald Le Borg-directed Voodoo Island as one his better pictures -- this and a flurry of forgotten TV guest appearances were the uncanny Karloff's lot in life in 1957. Mario Rossi and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra provide the music. This is the orchestra belonging to the Volksoper Wien, not the Staatsoper then conducted by Herbert von Karajan. They probably weren't even in the same room with Karloff, who likely contributed his narration in New York -- a pity, as he would probably have enjoyed a working holiday in Vienna.

Vanguard's Peter & the Wolf appeared on CD once before with I Solisti di Zagreb's Toy Symphony and Abravanel's Nutcracker Suite with the Utah Symphony as filler; however, this 2006 reissue observes the original filler, Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé Suite. The horns don't quite get it in the famous "Troika" movement, and in general, the percussion section is sloppy throughout the whole album, although the performance is at least spirited. For students of recording technology, this issue is very interesting as it is likely the first stereo recording of either work, although it wasn't made with that in mind. It is a three-track recording intended for mix-down in mono, with Karloff added to the third track. Here, Karloff's voice is placed in the center with the stereo orchestral mix panned to either side, a reasonable solution to making stereo out of a multitrack recording designed for mono. Karloff's performance, as one would imagine, is singular, beyond reproach, and defies critical evaluation.

The master tape is obviously old; it's a little furry sounding and has some wow; once in awhile the pitch drops briefly, one hears flutter in Karloff's voice and there is the occasional burst of distortion. So from a purely technical standpoint this might not be the Peter & the Wolf you'd want to get for your kids -- the one with Sting is fine and in great sound -- but it might be the one you'd get for yourself to replace the album YOU had when you were a kid. For Karloff's legions of fans, obtaining this is a no-brainer; however, if you also wind up liking Kijé, you'll then owe it to yourself to find a better recording than this.