________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 2. . . .September 11, 2015


Sleep Softly: Classical Lullabies by Brahms, Schubert, Satie, Debussy....

Performed by L’Ensemble Agora. Illustrated by Élodie Nouhen.
Montreal, PQ: The Secret Mountain (Distributed in Canada by the Manda Group), 2015.
36 pp., (includes 34 min. CD), hardcover, $22.95.
ISBN 978-2-924217-24-5.

Birth and up / All ages.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

*** /4


Sleep Softly is a storybook accompanied by a CD. The book introduces 16 classical pieces of gentle, sleep inducing music with detailed notes, as well as many of the literary works with which the composers were inspired. The musical selections are performed by L'Ensemble Agora, a critically acclaimed group of French musicians whose members include Catherine Puertolas (flute, alto flute, piccolo), Helene Mourot and Phillipe Cairey Remonay (oboe,oboe d'amore, English horn), Sandrine Pastor Cavalier (clarinet, basset horn), Sergio Menozzi (bass clarinet), Cedric Laggia (bassoon, contrabassoon), David Pastor (French Horn) and Sophie Bellanger (harp). The original group, a wind ensemble and harpist, has been performing since 1998 and are known for putting classical music together with art, writing, illustration or drama to create what they call an "alternative" concert experience.

     Sleep Softly: Classical Lullabies by Brahms, Schubert, Satie, Debussey... would certainly be deemed an "alternative" concert as it combines music, literature and art. The text of the story book, written by Nicolas Tholozan, is composed of explanatory notes on each piece. These notes are written for adults who are reasonably musically literate, and each is chock full of interesting detail, including information on the life and times of the composer, musical history of the piece and its orchestration by L'Ensemble Agora. As an example, here is Tholozan's introductory note to “Solveig's Song” from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg:

In 1875 Edvard Grieg composed incidental music for Peer Gynt by Norwegian playwright Edvard Greig. Peer Gynt is the work's slightly mad hero who abandons Solveig to wander the world in search of his identity. When he returns to Norway, old, tired and dissatisfied, Solveig who has always remained true awaits and greets him with this song

     The note then explains that the song is in two sections, the first a sombre Slavic style melody in a minor key (which returns at the end of the song) and a lighter second section in a major key suggesting Solveig's faith in Peer Gynt.

     As well as familiar favourites such as Offenbach's Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman, Brahms' Lullaby, Franz Schubert's Standchen (Serenade) and Gute Nacht (Good Night), the CD offers many other beautifully orchestrated and carefully chosen lesser known works. They include Debussey's Boite a joujoux (The Toybox), Bizet's La Poupee (The Doll), Ravel's Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty Pavane), Dors, ami (Sleep My Friend), an excerpt from Jules Massenet's opera Don Cesar de Bazan and a little number by Emmanuel Chabrier entitled Feuillet d'album (Album Leaf), a term which the introductory note explains as "...a short piece intended not for publication, but simply as a gift to another musician in this case pianist Edouard Risler."

     Softly shaded, whimsical illustrations, by gifted artist Elodie Nouhen, accompany each selection in the storybook and lend a dreamlike quality to this small "alternative concert" that publishers of Folle Avoine Productions (The Secret Mountain) have put together.

     The question with which a reviewer is left after listening to the beautiful renditions of each piece and reading the exceptionally well written and interesting explanatory notes is this: Just for whom, exactly, is Sleep Softly intended? The text of the storybook is certainly for adults who have musical interest and some knowledge of musical terms. The style and tone of the illustrations are perfectly in accord with each of the 16 pieces, but enjoying them definitely requires eyes open rather than closed in slumber! There are several poems in the text of the storybook which might possibly be sung (or even hummed?) along with the musical selections by someone exceptionally musically able; however, all in all, Sleep Softly Classical Lullabies by Brahms, Schubert, Satie, Debussey... will be most enjoyed by the above mentioned group of adults and the children with which they share it. In addition, the collection might be a good choice for child care facilities where daily naps for their young charges are scheduled or as a gift to musically appreciative parents of a new baby.

Recommended with Reservations.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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