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Shostakovich Marginalia

Hypothetically Murdered, orchestral suite (arr. Gerard McBurney);
Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin (completed by Gerard McBurney)
Five Fragments op. 42
Suite no. 1 for Jazz Band

Dmitri Kharitoniv, bass, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mark Elder
Signum Classics SIGCD051 - previously released on previously released on Cala 88001 (1993)

Incidental music for Hamlet & King Lear

Louise Winter, soprano; David Wilson-Johnson, baritone
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Mark Elder
Signum Classics SIGCD051 - previously released on Cala CACD1021 (1995)

Mark Elder was principal guest conductor until 1995 and, unless I missed some small print, Signum is a little coy in not indicating the history of these re-releases.

These two CDs will be revelatory additions to the major works in your Shostakovich collection. They are, first, reminders of how extensively he worked in theatre and cinema. Many of the pieces in his incidental music for Hamlet and King Lear are very brief (some 70 items) and epigrammatic.

The incidental music for Hamlet was written for a satirical production of the play by Akimov, who was influenced by Meterhold's idea of deliberately reversing all the usual assumptions about the great 'classics'; the overlong presentation had to be severely cut, including some of Shostakovich's numbers still in piano score, and it was still not well received in 1932. The King Lear music was for a 1941 Kozintsev production and is more appropriately dark, but with some oddities. The presentation is thorough, with English texts for the Fool's ten songs, and Gerard McBurney - whose researches are behind both these CDs - has orchestrated some of the music as necessary. McBurney's notes for this project are comprehensive and throw very interesting light upon the younger Shostakovich and his wholehearted involvement in popular and experimental entertainments of the time.

McBurney had a more exacting task to reconstruct, from surviving piano sketches, the orchestral suite for Utiosov's music-hall show Hypothetically Murdered (1931), a light-music circus entertainment, which had been lost and forgotten. Shostakovich fortunately left sufficient instrumental indications to make it possible to achieve a convinvingly authentic orchestration. It is all thoroughly idiomatic and entertaining. Some of the numbers reappeared in familiar works, including Lady Macbeth . The first three of the Pushkin Romances , composed just before the Fifth Symphony, were orchestrated by the composer, and McBurney supplied what was needed for the fourth; Shostakovich even quoted one of them in the symphony's finale.

The Jazz Suite No. 1 (1934) [not 1924 as in the listing] is the music most likely to be known to purchasers, and it receives a lively account under Mark Elder, brilliantly played by the CBSO musicians, as is everything here, recorded 1992/94 in the sympathetic acoustic of Symphony Hall, Birmingham. A great deal of the music collected in these discs received premiere recordings which first saw the light of day in the Cala catalogue. If Signum is now succeeding in giving them a new lease of life, that is all to the good; both CDs are to be warmly welcomed.

Hamlet & King Lear (Cala)

© Peter Grahame Woolf