BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Martyn Brabbins / Bernie Krause

Richard Blackford: The Great Animal Orchestra; Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals

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The Great Animal Orchestra started life as a book by Bernie Krause, an American soundscape recordist and "bioacoustician" who has traveled widely and recorded the sounds of wildlife in many parts of the world. He argues the roots of music lie in mimesis of animal sounds, and indeed he has located cultures where humans sing with a backdrop of animal sounds serving, he says, as something of a karaoke track. Krause was contacted by British composer Richard Blackford, who conceived the idea of using Krause's recordings as the basis for a musical composition. This could easily have become too gimmicky, but it works, thanks on one hand to the variety of sounds involved: gibbons, tree frogs, a pileated woodpecker, wolves, elephants, a gorilla, and a trio of wren, potoo, and piha. These are paired -- and this is really what makes the piece work -- with a brassy score in the Gershwin/Bernstein vein that would be entertaining in itself: there's something compelling about the combination of the highly experimental and the comfortably familiar here. The work is paired with an orchestration by Blackford of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, which certainly seems to fit well in the circumstances, and with a discussion with Krause and Blackford recorded live at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, where the work received its premiere. It receives the right kind of entertaining performance from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Martyn Brabbins, but it is to be hoped that the materials can be made available so the work can be performed anywhere. It would liven up any orchestral concert.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
The Great Animal Orchestra
1 07:11 Amazon
2 04:44 Amazon
3 07:48 Amazon
4 05:13 Amazon
5 05:21 Amazon
Carnival of the Animals
6 01:59 Amazon
7 00:40 Amazon
8 00:48 Amazon
9 01:47 Amazon
10 01:38 Amazon
11 01:05 Amazon
12 02:33 Amazon
13 00:51 Amazon
14 02:25 Amazon
15 01:24 Amazon
16 01:19 Amazon
17 01:21 Amazon
18 03:09 Amazon
19 02:15 Amazon
20 20:55 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick