Shostakovich: Hamlet (incidental music to 1932 & 1954 productions); King Lear (incidental music)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Hamlet (incidental music to 1932 & 1954 productions); King Lear (incidental music)
PERFORMER: CBSO/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 052
This timely reissue now makes the perfect companion to the recent Naxos release of Shostakovich’s 1964 Hamlet film score (reviewed July 2004). The music featured here accompanied a bizarre 1932 Moscow staging, which with its anti-Shakespearean creations of an overweight, shamming Hamlet and an inebriated Ophelia evidently told a different story from Kozintsev’s overwhelmingly tragic film. What we hear of Shostakovich’s contribution from Mark Elder and company – every bar of it, thanks to several Schnittke-esque arrangements by Gerard McBurney – underlines the interpretation’s strip-cartoon perversity, especially in Louise Winter’s idiomatic delivery of Ophelia’s tipsy cabaret waltz. Yet Elder also evocatively underlines how many of Shostakovich’s music-hall numbers take place in shadow-casting candlelight. Inevitably, perhaps, the music remains incidental in comparison to the fully developed film score, and more text than just the score-cues would have helped with continuity, especially in the players’ scene. Sustained atmosphere arrives with the ten fool’s song-fragments for Kozintsev’s 1941 production of King Lear, beginning with a bizarre Russian paraphrase of ‘Jingle Bells’ and ending with a homage to the Holy Fool of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. Elsewhere, though, Shostakovich is on automatic tragic pilot; to complete the picture, you’ll need to hunt out the much starker Lear music of his masterly 1970 film-score. Even so, what’s here is absolutely definitive, much enriched by sharp recorded focus and McBurney’s helpful documentation. David Nice

Advertisement