Representing a collaboration
between Shostakovich and the Soviet
film director Grigori Kozintsev, the
music for Hamlet was written
in 1964. In addition there is music
for the play from 1954.
The pull of Shakespeare
was indeed strong, yet Shostakovich
only wrote music for Hamlet and
Lear, two plays that deal with
leadership matters (pity there is no
Macbeth). Shostakovich’s skill
in his task is manifest in a straight
play-through of the disc, as the smaller,
more immediately functional numbers
(e.g. the ‘Military Music’ and ‘Fanfares’,
numbers 2 and 3 of the present disc,
or even the ‘brainless’ ‘The Flutes
Play’) contrast well with the more extended
sections where Shostakovich’s fingerprints
become much more obvious.
Billed as ‘The first
complete recording of the Published
Film Score’, this laudable endeavour
finds the Russian Philharmonic on top
form for Yablonsky. The SACD recording
is superb, with a true sound-picture
possessed of much depth.
There are 23 movements,
including the Overture. The Overture
in fact resembles Prokofiev’s Romeo
and Juliet in its reiterated chords,
but it is the contrastive theme (Ophelia)
that is the most memorable part, intensely
lyrical and completely Shostakovichian.
In the shorter, more
gestural and illustrative movements
one is struck by Shostakovich’s ability
to conjure up atmospheres in very short
spans of time. Interestingly, Yablonsky
includes in the ‘Ball’ movement (track
6) more music than there is in the film
(wherein the music fades away).
Of course Shostakovich’s
orchestration was masterly, and that
aspect of his art is fully in evidence
here. The use of a harpsichord is particularly
effective and is not only limited to
period evocations although it can appear
too closely miked.
The Poisoning Scene
is a particular highlight (track 16),
with its suspenseful use of silence,
as are the bare, sparse textures of
the penultimate movement, ‘The Cemetery’.
A pity that the final section, ‘Hamlet’s
Funeral’, does not give any real sense
of completion, or even ask an interesting
question. In truth, it does not carry
the emotive weight it might have.
Stock gestures do on
occasion seem hackneyed. An example
can be found in Track 5, ‘Horatio and
the ghost’, with its tremolandi
strings and low brass. Yet the overall
impression is much more than this. It
really came as a shock to realise that
one can listen to the whole disc in
one sitting, taking the incidental music
as a single entity.
As the first complete
recording, this effectively has the
field to itself. The Suite, Op. 116a,
which is incorporated into the Naxos
programme, has been previously reviewed
on MusicWeb when issued on RCA
Hamlet Suite, Op. 116a
: Belgian Radio Symphony Orchestra/José
Serebrier). Note that the eight movements
(including the overture) that make up
the Suite are identified as such by
Naxos in their track listing.
Do try to hear this.
In the final analysis it appears as
more than the sum of its parts. Yablonsky’s
Hamlet is not just for Shostakovich
completists, instead offering a rich
tapestry of pleasure.
Hamlet Suite Op. 116a:
Proko (one mvt, same forces as here):