King Lear (Naxos Audio) Audio CD – Audiobook, Classical
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Now Naxos Audiobooks has released on tape and CD yet another version with Paul Scofield again, Harriet Walter (Gonerill, as it is spelled on this set), Sara Kestelman (Regan), Emilia Fox (Cordelia), Peter Blythe (Albany), and Jack Klaff (Cornwall) as the dysfunctional royal family. As the parallel set, we have Alec McCowen (Gloucester), Richard McCabe (Edgar), and Toby Stephens (Edmond).
While Kenneth Branagh played the villainous brother in the Gielgud set, he is assigned the Fool in this production with David Burke (Kent) and Matthew Morgan (Oswald).
The reading in the Caedmon recording is in the grand manner, more poetical than is the most recent; but this Naxos effort seems to move faster, is more dramatic (as should be no surprise) in our sense of the word in that it is more realistic, more "modern" sounding. But I would not dismiss the older set by any means.
I found Scofield less earth-shaking in this production, sounding a little more reasonable and vulnerable than in the earlier one--but after 36 years and under a new director (Howard Sackler in 1965, John Tydeman here), an actor must rethink the role. What I do appreciate is that every word in the storm scene is spoken clearly and not drowned out by the sound effects.
All Drama departments should own both Scofield versions. This Naxos release is available on tape (NA324414) and CD (NA324412). It is also the best buy since Naxos is the supreme budget label.
Amazingly we receive Lear at all, considering its history and the fact that for two hundred years a false and unfortunate and unauthentic "happy" Hollywood ending was imposed upon its productions, as if MacBeth and MacDuff embrace at the end of the Scots tragedy. We are fortunate in our times to find the massive and meticulous scholarship which has gone into the integral restoration of Lear, combining the two versions and smoothing over disagreements. It is amazing in how much the two versions agree, and yet each has a good chunk of play which the other does not, such as the Quarto's mock trial of the fox daughters. Normally now these missing chunks are included with notation.
Not so here. The only shadow upon this otherwise excellent recording is that it presents the Folio alone, as indicated in the comprehensive brochure enclosed, and in the specific endorsement of the The Tragedy of King Lear (The New Cambridge Shakespeare) on the back cover. Thus we lose much in gaining the great Scofield.
And Scofield is truly great, the noted actor's actor, whom other great actors such as O'Toole and Harris would sneak out to watch in action, the actor best known here for A Man for All Seasons (Special Edition). Scofield presented Lear in the theatre for this same director while in his forties; here he is recorded about 2001 in his eighties, voice ever powerful, a finely tuned and a varied instrument, the most precise of the English tongue, here presented in all of its fullness.
The supporting players as well are excellent, though one may as always have quibbles. I find for instance the remarks by Cornwall after the taking of the second eye too casually delivered, especially as he stands mortally wounded. And my personal take on Cordelia has always been against the typical presentation: I see her as quite small in stature, even dwarfish, thus well beloved by Fool and father but less favored in society, but especially with some physical trouble in speech which prevents her from speaking freely in public, but again especially beloved by Fool and father. Rather is she always presented as most noble and regal and physically, verbally, wonderful.
We must also wonder at her being left behind by her fiance, who more wisely might have left things to fall as they must in Britain and return at a later time more easily. We think therefore of Joyce's tale of Eveline, and her urgency in loving her father more than any other, even husband. But these ideas wander from the direct technical consideration of this production.
This three disk set is as good as we can get, with the great Scofield in command. I might wish for a better and more foolish Fool, but then again this is Kenneth Branagh, and who after all could be better. I prefer the elderly Fool seen elsewhere, but that is perhaps another too personal reading.
If only this recording considered the Quarto as well!