The best children’s music must also appeal to adults (who doesn’t love Peter and the Wolf?), and based on that criterion, this album is a winner. Debussy and Poulenc approach their tasks in different ways, but both share that special combination of a kind of straightforward dramatic shaping that kids respond to as well as a deft and subtle handling of the music. In balance, Debussy’s late-in-life work, which was probably intended for full orchestra, is the more artful work of the two, but Poulenc displays a more intuitive sense for theatrical effect. To cite but one example, the music for Babar’s wedding and coronation has a subdued magnificence that would not be out of place in a grand opera. Indeed, there are echoes of Poulenc’s stage works throughout the piece.
Ken Beachler, a Michigan-based actor and theater producer, delivers his lines, in English translation, with a mellifluous serenity. Sergei Kvitko is a sensitive and agile pianist. Having once been a child myself, I could imagine some sense of the effectiveness of this collaboration, but I also solicited the opinions of two young friends. Shira, age nine, found the Debussy to be “good music for a background of a stage, and it is also gentle music.” Her older brother, Aaron, offered a range of reactions to the Poulenc, which he considered, at turns, to be “calming, enthusiastic, wild, and sleepy.” That would be four little thumbs up for this sweet undertaking. Peter Burwasser