Carnival of the Animals

The Kanneh-Masons


AIMED squarely at the Christmas stocking of young music-lovers, the first collective release by the Kanneh-Mason clan covers a lot of territory – musically, performatively, and geographically.

There are seven of the gifted family on the disc, with the youngest, Mariatu, having a starring role alongside writer Michael Morpurgo in the supporting feature, narrating the Yuletide tale Grandpa Christmas, in the company of its author.

He is far from the only guest on the sessions. Partnering Morpurgo in delivering the new text he has written for Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals is actor Olivia Coleman, and the family group is augmented by well-known musicians including viola player Timothy Ridout, clarinettist and composer Mark Simpson, and Scotland’s Alasdair Malloy on his specialist instrument, glass harmonica.

Morpurgo’s words bring the suite – Hens and Roosters, Elephant, Fossils, Swan et al – up to date, as long as you consider contemporary a passing reference to The Move’s 1970 pop hit Brontosaurus (which will sail over the heads of the intended audience), and the recording – made at Abbey Road studios – is exemplary, with the music always foregrounded, regardless of the starry company delivering the verse.

Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Rimsky-Korsakov and, crucially, Bela Bartok, are harnessed to the Christmas story that follows, with a lovely ensemble arrangement of Eric Whitacre’s Seal Lullaby rounding things off, and then Kanneh-Masons’ arrangement of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song by way of an encore.

Producer Dominic Fyfe, whose own story of meeting first Morpurgo as a youngster is a fine tale in itself, has brought all of these ingredients together with great skill. It is an hour of music and words that will surely captivate many a young ear, as well as a few older ones.

Keith Bruce