If you’ve ever played the piano, some of the 52 tracks here might well revive a few memories, either of enjoyment or struggle. It’s also a demonstration that composers of stature can write with simplicity without compromising their style. In fact, Stravinsky thought well enough of Les Cinq Doigts to arrange it for instrumental ensemble, though the monochrome palette of the piano suite the pieces better, and Clarke is direct and unemotional.
Prokofiev reused much of Music for Children elsewhere, and Raymond Clarke’s approach here is more Romantic in the slower movements, and incisive in the “Tarantella” – hard for any child to get their fingers round at this speed – and the “Marches”. He’s very good at setting the mood quickly for each piece, even more important in Shostakovich’s Children’s Notebook, where most of the movements have come and gone before you can blink. The great pity is that the piano isn’t completely in tune, and sustained lines especially suffer. “Sunday Afternoon Music”, from Copland’s Piano Album, is particularly unsettling, as are the isolated pitches of Webern’s Kinderstück. Luckily, the four pieces from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos come off better – this is music which goes way beyond its didactic purpose.
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