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

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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)
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