September 2004

Shostakovich - Hamlet, Music for the 1964 Film
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra; Dmitry Yablonsky, conductor
Naxos 6.110062
Released: 2004

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Shostakovich fell in love with film early on in his career. In 1929, he wrote a score for the silent film, The New Babylon, which was to be played live while the movie was shown. Later he wrote scores for numerous sound films, including The Counterplan, The Great Citizen, and Pirogov. In spite of various efforts to record it, this music remains largely unknown to the public, with the exception of an excerpt from The Gadfly, which became famous in a Harry Rabinowitz arrangement as the theme for Public Television’s Reilly, Ace of Spies. Among his best scores are two for movies based on Shakespeare plays, and directed by Grigori Kozintsev: Hamlet (1964) and King Lear (1970). The Hamlet music, rich in musical imagery and character recognition, was arranged into an eight-movement suite, which has been recorded a few times, but this is the first recording of the complete published film score.

This performance seems to realize fully the composer’s design, which ranges from the dulcet harpsichord, representing Ophelia, to the jagged brass chords acknowledging Hamlet’s deranged state of mind. Dimitry Yablonsky has proved himself one of the most dynamic conductors of the current generation, and he does not disappoint here, being fully in tune with both the dramatic and lyrical elements of this colorful score. The Russian Philharmonic, of which he has been music director since 2002, is a world-class ensemble. All of its section are solid, the soloists within those of virtuoso caliber. As usual in its Russian multichannel recordings, the engineers have provided rich reverberant sound that sells the bigger, bombastic sections of the score by totally involving the listener, yet allows the smallest nuance to be heard with clarity. Good news, then, that Shostakovich composed over 30 film scores, so there is a lot material ready to encore this release, should Naxos want to start a multichannel Russian-film-score festival. I, for one, would welcome such a project.