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Recordings

Children’s Songs of the World
25 Aug 2006

Children’s Songs of the World

In Turkey recently, we visited a second-grade classroom, where our guide invited the children to sing songs for us.

Children’s Songs of the World

Edita Gruberova, soprano

Nightingale Classics NC 070660-2 [CD]

€19,99  Click to buy

After two children had soloed on a Turkish rap piece, followed by a Muslim religious song, it was our turn to sing. We were at a loss for an appropriate American song, until the guide asked for “the song about the little spider. That always goes over well.” “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” is one of the songs on soprano Edita Gruberova’s Nightingale CD, which is a curious meeting between a great diva in one of the last western acoustical vocal music forms and a very imaginative arranger and performer on the synthesizer, over a pleasing variety of songs collected from the children of the world. The notes are written by the late Kurt Pahlen, who collected and published the songs, many of them in his book Wenn Kinder singen...öffnet sich der Himmel, which had just come out when this recording was made in 1992.

The children in my life are either teenagers, and hence past the age group for which this CD is intended, or else too young to articulate their opinions of it (e.g. the four-month-old baby of the multi-lingual, music-loving Swiss friend to whom I’m giving the CD as a gift), so I am not in a position to speak for the target audience, or even to know what other music reaches them these days (15 years ago my young niece was particularly fond of “Baby Beluga” as performed by Raffi, but times may have changed). So the best I can do is describe the disc and let readers decide for themselves whether or not to make it available to the children in their lives.

The songs are gathered from five continents (Australia is not represented) and sung in the language of the country of origin. Texts are not included, so children will only be able to sing along by imitating the syllables that they hear (which, if I remember correctly from my own childhood, kids do anyway), except for the songs that they already know in their own language (my Swiss friend is familiar with all the German language songs, and I know “Three Blind Mice” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, although I’d never heard “Humpty Dumpty” sung before this).

Arrangements are played and in many cases synthesized to support the tune and sometimes add atmosphere or ethnic flavor; how appropriate the flavor is for the actual song is another matter (the old-time fiddle effect for “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” startled me a bit, but I suppose it is a legitimate “American” sound, even if I’ve never associated it with that particular song). Sounds include drum rolls in “Joli Tambour”, a mariachi band for the Mexican “De esos caballos”, a balalaika in the lovely Russian lullaby “Spi mladjenec”, panpipes in the Greek “Pera ston pera kambo”, African drums in “Kumbaya” (of which the notes acknowledge that no one knows the exact origin), and bird songs in the German “Alle vöglein”. A children’s chorus joins Gruberova on some songs, with children taking solo parts in the dialogues in “Joli Tambour.” Most songs last between one and two minutes; the longest, the lovely “Dolina, dolina” from Gruberova’s native Slovakia , lasting less than four minutes.

Gruberova brings energy and character to these songs. There are enjoyable animal sound effects: “meow” in the Norwegian “Katten og killingen” and a cuckoo in the Italian “L’inverno e passato”. Her tone is supported, but there is no thick vibrato; the Japanese “Sakura” is set in a part of her voice that allows for a liquid sound. We do hear her breath intake in “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” in a way that we wouldn’t hear in her performance of, say, a Mozart concert aria, and she modifies her voice to bring a nasal quality to the Egyptian and Indian songs. I of course cannot speak to the quality of her accent in the vast array of languages on this disc: I find her understandable in the English songs but there is definitely a foreign accent.

This international collection of children’s songs is clearly intended for an international audience; Pahlen’s notes and descriptions of the individual songs are given in German, English, French, Italian, and what I take to be Japanese. Listeners to whom absolute authenticity in the presentation of international folk music is important will probably be turned off by the synthesized arrangements, but overall this is a disc that I found enjoyable to listen to, and, perhaps even more importantly, I grew to like even more as I listened to it multiple times, which, as I recall from my niece’s family’s experience with “Baby Beluga”, one can pretty much count on doing, over and over, if one’s children decide they really like the disc.

Barbara Miller

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