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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 18 November 2009
OK, so you won't be hearing the opening line from Endymion here, but you will hear some of the most famous lines in English-language poetry in this 'celebration of the greatest poems and classical music, read by the finest voices of our time.' Including:

'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? ...'
'Oh, to be in England/ Now that April's there, ...'
'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, ...'
'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. ...'
'If you can keep your head when all around you/ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, ...'

As it has been released this week, it is now possible to listen to this CD before reviewing it.

The actors involved in this recording have waived their royalties in favour of I CAN, the children's communication charity.

To many poetry lovers the sound of the poem is as essential to the meaning as the words on the page, and a collection of this kind, read by some of our best-loved actors is most welcome. Though some of us will be happy just to let these wonderful words and music wash over us, others may want to reflect and ponder the poet's words. If you are like me, you will also want the printed words in front of you (though they are not included in the accompanying booklet).

There is no explanation of how these poems were selected, though as can be seen, they include the familiar as well as a few perhaps lesser-known gems. The latter include Rock Me To Sleep, accompanied by a heavenly excerpt from Schubert's Rosamunde, and Emily Bronte's Come Walk With Me; and it's good to see included two poems from the sadly-missed Elizabeth Jennings. Many of the poems have appeared repeatedly in popular anthologies in recent years; for example, two-thirds of them were included in the BBC book (and audio collection) The Nation's Favourite Poems published in 1996.

The background music has been carefully selected for each particular poem, though perhaps it works better on some than others. There is an issue here. In some poetry collections where music has been included the results have not always been appreciated, and indeed, considered by some to be too intrusive, even distracting. Well, clearly that is a matter of personal choice. In this case the music is mostly well in the background.

The opening poem will be familiar not just from its origins, but also as Pete Seeger's 1960s popular folk song Turn! Turn! Turn! Kipling's portentous If remains a great favourite, though I had to smile at both the choice of reader in Martin Shaw, and the music by Verdi. Still, I do prefer this better-paced version to the one I have read by John Nettles.

To Autumn is read over a piece by Borodin by Ben Whishaw, who plays a fragile Keats in Jane Campion's new film Bright Star. Brian Cox impresses with his readings of Burns and The Lady Of Shalott (and I'm pleased to say we get the full version). The excerpts from Greig work well behind DH Lawrence's On The Balcony, and hauntingly with Byron's She Walks In Beauty. Similarly, Mahler's sweeping strings lift Yeats's He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, and Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, yet is appropriately sombre behind Auden's Stop All The Clocks (or Funeral Blues). An elegant Nocturne excerpt from Chopin accompanies Silver, and Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending is most suitable for another perennial (though poignant) favourite Adlestrop, written hardly 18 months before Edward Thomas died in the trenches.

A plaintive cello piece backs this version of Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, read movingly by one of our best-known character actors, Miriam Margolyes. This poem has become a popular favourite in recent years, At one time believed to have been written by a serviceman killed in Northern Ireland, it has been attributed to a Baltimore housewife Mary Elizabeth Frye, written in the Thirties over the grief of a friend unable to return to Nazi Germany. An excerpt from Beethoven's 7th Symphony is played behind the angry Dulce Et Decorum Est ('The old Lie: ...') sounding both dramatic and poignant. Wilfred Owen's lines resonate in the words of The Last Post, the magnificent poem written by the new laureate, the wonderful Carol Ann Duffy, to mark the funerals earlier this year of the last veterans of the Great War. 'If poetry could truly tell it backwards,/ then it would.' Ah, if only.

Well, there's no Housman, Eliot, Larkin or Hughes, to name but a few; nor Anon, another favourite of mine. But what we do have is a veritable treasure of words, music and voice to entertain, reassure, comfort and challenge as we look to the long winter nights ahead - and beyond.

As the late Clifford T. Ward once sang: 'I like the words they use, and I like the way they use them, ...'
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on 10 October 2009
Heard three poems from the CD on Breakfast TV. The music in the background enhanced my enjoyment and brought tears to my eyes. Shall certainly order the CD and can't wait to listen to it all the way through!
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on 8 October 2009
This product not available yet but just seen Alison Steadman on BBC BREAKFAST who reads poems on it. We heard 3 in all and it was just fabulous. A very new way to hear poetry with beautiful music playing in the background.Alison mentioned it was now available on Amazon. Very excited about receiving and listening to it.
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on 8 October 2009
what a great idea. I love Joanna Lumley's voice and can't wait to hear this release when it comes out. i saw the bbc thing and thought that it sounds really special. it's got Geoffery Palmer too. it's nice to hear his voice again.
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on 27 October 2009
Heard Geoffery Palmer reciting part of one on the "one show" what a moving experience and I am sure the rest of the compilation will be of a similar standard a very good way to promote poetry and make it more accessible to all as well as being an excellent way to raise funds for a worthwhile cause - should be in everyones christmas stocking!
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I love reading poetry, but I love listening to it even more - there is something special about hearing poetry, and even people who say they don't like it usually like listening to it. With this cd you get 27 poems read by famous faces, accompanied with classical music as backing. With Shakespeare, and Wordsworth's 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', with Burns and Tennyson amongst this great selection there is absolutely nothing to fault with this.

It is likely that you will know most, if not all these great loved poems on this cd which is the ideal way to relax. This would make a perfect present for someone, especially with Christmas coming up. Also buying this you will have the knowledge that you are helping to raise money for a worth cause, the I Can charity which helps children to communicate, you can find other ways to help this charity on their website.
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on 18 November 2009
Don't give this to your granny for Christmas unless you want her to commit suicide.

I also heard Geoffrey Palmer reading an excerpt on the radio and thought that it would be a great gift for an elderly relative.

The crystal case is not sealed so I took the opportunity of listening to the cd before wrapping it up, and I'm afraid that I'm going to be looking for a different gift for gran. The poems are, in the main, beautifully read and the music is lovely. However, most of the poems are fairly short and they are very close together so that when one finishes another starts pretty much immediately. As far as the poetry is concerned this would be OK, but we get the situation where the backing music stops and we go straight into another composition. Very frustrating if one of your favourite pieces is being played, stops, and then another piece starts up as a new poem is read. OK, I suppose, for those with a short attention span, but I feel that it might have been better if we had a longer musical piece with maybe a sequence of poems being read over it.

However, the main theme of the poems seemed to be death, and this I found extremely depressing. There is plenty of upbeat poetry around but this cd is lacking in that.

This is a good product if you want to dip in and hear an occasional poem being read, but if you intend to listen to it all the way through then make sure there are no sharp knives around.
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on 8 December 2009
I go to sleep each night after listening to these lovely words read by superb actors/actresses and feel so soothed by the gentle rhythms- sometimes I 'miss' the end few poems!
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on 30 November 2009
Love this CD. Have had it on in car since I received it. Not a poetry fan but this is wonderful and the music adds to the poignancy of pieces/ I am buying it for friends for Christmas
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on 18 November 2009
What a lovely CD, the perfect antidote to a stressful day. Each of the poems is beautifully read, and the accompanying music is perfectly chosen, and complements, rather than overpowers the reading.

Lots of old favourites here, but nice to find a few new favourites too. My only tiny whinge, and the reason it didn't get five stars, is that they seem to have used a different version of "Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep" which - to me - is not as good as the version I have heard before, but I am being very picky as this is the only fault in what is otherwise a fantastic purchase - and for a good cause too.
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