The composition in written in a traditional, four-movement form and is filled with highly expressive, lyrical themes, which are broadly expanded and make full use of the orchestra’s registers and sound colouring. The outer movements act like a cyclical framework, with the theme of the first movement reappearing in the last movement where it is combined with new material and taken to a final boisterous apotheosis. Antal Dorati leads his orchestra through the depths of the score with a sure and steady hand, cautiously allowing them to revel in the often brittle melodies during moments of repose. In doing so the maestro amalgamates the work’s powerful dynamic force with its tremendous instrumental variety and a feeling of joyous song, thus producing a magnificent unity.
The characters and animals are each given a characteristic theme which is presented by a particular instrument or register. While Prokofiev wrote his composition with a pedagogic purpose in mind, Saint-Saëns’s main aim was to create a piece of musical fun. The mischievous work not only offers a lively depiction of various animals and even hollow-sounding fossils (by means of the xylophone), but also contains numerous tongue-in-cheek references to works by great composers.
These two musical masterpieces combine humour with education in a thoroughly fascinating and enchanting manner and are equally loved by children and adults alike. The interpretation and sound of this DECCA LP certainly earns first prize for being “beastly”!