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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Hamlet, music for the stage, Op 32 (1931) [48.12]
King Lear, Op 58A (1941) [24.58]
Louise Winter, mezzo-soprano
David Wilson-Johnson, baritone;
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Mark Elder
Recorded in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England, 15 June 1994.
Notes in English, including English versions of the Russian songs.

Reference Recordings:
Shostakovich, Hamlet film score (suite) Op 116 Herrmann, NPO, Decca Phase 4 LP.

This recording was something of a surprise. I thought I knew the Hamlet music, but the music I know is the film score music from 1964 and not the 1932 stage music, which was written to accompany a heavily satirical revisionist production in which Hamlet was an obese and evil plotter and Ophelia was an intoxicated vamp. Needless to say this music does not express emotions one would normally associate with Hamlet but is strong on sharply astringent little dances. It is from hearing this early music by Shostakovich that we can surmise what kind of composer he would have turned out to be had the infamous 1936 denunciation of Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk not taken place.

With King Lear we get onto more familiar ground. In fact very familiar: the first fool’s song "He Who decides..." is sung to a tune well known in the US as the chorus from "Jingle Bells." However, the original version of this song, written and copyrighted by James Pierpont in West Medford, Massachusetts, in 1857, is different from the version now generally sung, which more like this tune. Perhaps after all it is a traditional Russian song that somehow ended up in the US as a pop tune. Stranger things have happened; look at the Canadian national anthem.

The sound on this disk is exceptionally clear; not only was it well mastered at 20 bit resolution but the down-sampling and noise shaping were accomplished with exceptional success. The many cymbal clashes will challenge and demonstrate your tweeters. In both sets of selections the soloists with very English sounding names feature in long stretches of astonishing clear and liquid Russian; see if your accent can match this!

Paul Shoemaker

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