When it comes to classical music for children, Naxos provides at a level of quality and dedication that other record companies struggle to hold a candle to. Whether we’re thinking about its brilliant Children’s Classics series of recordings, its educational multimedia books, or the apps it was quick to begin producing as this new electronic medium began to take off, the running theme has been well thought out concepts, beautiful illustrations, and engaging accompanying narrations.
Find out why school is not for kangaroos while making the naughty marsupials bounce and throw paper aeroplanes
This, its fifth app for children, continues the tradition in fine form, giving a 21st-century multimedia makeover to the existing Naxos complete orchestral recording of Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals, performed by the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and Ondrej Lenárd. New verses by Genevieve Helsby and Rebecca Helsby accompany each movement, beautifully narrated by Roy McMillan. Colourful illustrations by James Mayhew leap into life at a tap, issuing sound effects as they go. Find out why school is not for kangaroos while making the naughty marsupials bounce and throw paper aeroplanes. Hear about the shy cuckoo, but watch out – tap him, and he’ll dive for the cover of bushes in a rustle of leaves.
While the app’s default setting is for the work to play movement by movement, with narration over each work, you can also choose your own experience. You can select individual movements, there’s a narration-only setting, a ‘shhhh’ setting in which only the animated sound effects make a noise, and a music-only setting. If you or your child wants to get to know the music itself, then you’ll be making use of this last setting in particular, as the music inevitably is secondary to the narration when both are in play. There’s also a page about Saint-Saëns himself, placing Carnival in the context of his career and other music, written in the child-level style that Naxos has got down to a fine art.
Still, as any tablet-owning family will know, children don’t always share the opinion of adult reviewers as to what constitutes a fun educational app. So, it seemed only fair to take this to the kids, and in the Gardner household Carnival got a cautious thumbs-up. Our three-year-old largely ignored the music and verse, but enjoyed making the animations hop, bray and cavort. Our six-year-old got more out of it, listening to the verses and music, and flitting between the various movements. There isn’t quite enough action or tension to sustain interest for a long length of time, but this is one that will certainly be dipped in and out of with regularity. In short, this app is what you expect it to be: a brilliant introduction to one of the most fun and child-friendly classical works ever written.
Charlotte Gardner is a contributor to the BBC Music website, Gramophone and theartsdesk.com.
Available from Apple App Store, Amazon Appstore, Google Play: £2.49/£2.99