The shakespeare suite - david stoll (RVRCD52)

The SHAKESPEARE SUITE presents a dozen of Shakespeare’s best-loved characters in musical form. Written in a highly accessible and tuneful style, this set of pieces for chamber ensemble is full of references to the plays and may also be enjoyed in its own right.

From the dilemma of VIOLA (a woman, disguised as a man, in love with the man who has sent her to woo, on his behalf, a woman whom he loves but who is, herself, in love with Viola, thinking her to be a man) to the eternal feminine mystery of CLEOPATRA as she floats in her royal barge down the Nile;  from the charismatic devilry of the murderous RICHARD THE THIRD who terrifies even himself, to the inspiring young HENRY THE FIFTH encouraging his army at the Battle of Agincourt; from the lovers BEATRICE AND BENEDICK who never stop quarreling, to the tormented Prince HAMLET who finds that his father has been murdered by his own brother, Hamlet’s uncle, who also seduced and married Hamlet’s mother: these, with PUCK, OTHELLO, MIRANDA, PORTIA and FALSTAFF are all brought to life in this new CD from Riverrun Records.

1. FALSTAFF – Bassoon

Sir John Falstaff, the fat Knight, endowed with a charm that cannot be denied, can curse, complain, cajole and cause chaos like no other man, at a speed and with an invention that has no equal.  His considerable energies and powers of persuasion are, however, turned only to his own benefit and the service of disorder.  And he really can drink.
A fat, fantastical lover, a cowardly soldier and brigand (and brave as a lion in his own boasts), he is the despair of all honest men who come into contact with him – though it must be said that he does meet his match in a couple of the ladies. Even the young Prince Henry is, seemingly, corrupted by him – though Hal must deny Falstaff and all he stands for in order to become King Henry V.

2. OTHELLO – Clarinet

The noble Moor, Othello, woos and wins Desdemona, with stirring stories of his life and adventures, stories “strange, passing strange; pitiful, wondrous pitiful”.  Gradually, as he tells his tales, a tiny echo adds itself to his words, ideas and emotions, at first imitating them but soon taking the lead, and finally distorting them and edging them in nightmare directions. This is the duplicitous voice of Iago, who spins a disturbing tale of sexual betrayal.  Othello is now a pawn in his story and bound for destruction.

3. VIOLA – Flute and Viola

Viola is considering her impossible situation: she, a woman, disguised as Cesario, a man, has been sent to woo Olivia, a woman, on behalf of Orsino, the man whom Viola loves. And Olivia loves Cesario, who doesn’t exist.  “What will become of this?”  Three times Cesario pays court and Olivia falls more and more in love with ‘him’ as he (she) falls more and more in love with Orsino.  Only through a magical transformation - in which Cesario becomes what she really is - can all be resolved.

4. PUCK – Piano

The magic wood, evening.  Puck, servant to Oberon, King of the Fairies, is intent on mischief.  He leads the humans a merry dance, playing games in which would-be lovers are drawn to the wrong partner, would-be fighters are drawn further and further apart and one buffoon is given the head of a donkey and the enchanted affection of the Fairy Queen.  People think that they control what is going on in their lives, but Puck knows better, and is intent to prove it, simply for his own amusement.  “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

5. MIRANDA – String Quartet

Miranda is depicted as child, maid and woman.  Scenes are presented in 'flash-forward' as Prospero watches his infant daughter in the frail boat in which they had both been consigned to the raging sea.  As a baby her pure smile calms the storm which is also Prospero’s anger.  As a maid on the island, her innocent love for Ferdinand (son to Prospero’s deadly enemy) opens the door to Prospero’s forgiveness of those who wronged him.  As a noble lady (who sees only a "brave new world" in a rag-bag of erring and ignorant men) her clear vision opens the doors to Prospero’s full liberation from the will to control his own destiny.

6. RICHARD III – Piano, occasionally Cello

The music portrays a man of demonic fury, with terrifying and immediate changes of mood and a cruel sense of humour.  Richard can also appear utterly charming.  His cunning and power, his hatred and ruthless ambition, his political acuity all conspire to upset the balance of nature and send the country, already a bitter field of war, into a nightmare in which family, women, even children, are victims to his desires.  And this King, with mis-shapen gait and a very sharp sword, is always fully aware of what he is doing.

7. BEATRICE AND BENEDICK – Clarinet and Violin

They verbally spar off each other, capping the other’s insulting comments at great speed.  In fact, the clarinet and violin play in entirely different keys, each trying to win the argument and trump the other, and yet the music flows between them without the modulations even being noticed.  But nonetheless they are falling in love, albeit against their will.  And through all the twists and turns of the plot - the horribly interrupted wedding, the masked ball, the ludicrous exploits of the night watch - even after having acknowledged their love, the repartee continues.

8. HAMLET – Cello

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark – the maggot is in the fruit and a ghost stalks the corridors of the palace at Elsinore.  Hamlet has returned home from university to find his father, the King, has been murdered by his uncle, who has not only usurped the throne but also seduced and married the Queen, Hamlet’s mother.  The main scene referred to in the music is right at the heart of the play when the Prince finally speaks out to her and persuades her not to return to an adulterous bed.   We also hear something of his philosophical speculations.  But all the while the worm is devouring the fruit and the ghost is not appeased.

9. CLEOPATRA – Oboe

Enobarbus tells how she appeared, sailing down the Nile:

“The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burn’d on the water.  The poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.”

Spellbound, the listener stands on the river bank as the barge approaches from distant silence.  Just as it passes the oars are suddenly stilled, and the fascinating queen glides by with time suspended.  The strokes are taken up again and the barge sails on past into the distant silence.

10. HENRY V – Horn

It is the evening before the battle and the young King is walking through the camp of his army. His soldiers are heavily out-numbered and further dispirited by cold, wet and fear.  But they are transformed in his presence and given fresh heart for the next day.
“And so our scene must to the battle fly.” The Chorus offers us a small group of players on a tiny stage to present the full pageant of war.  For it is now St Crispin’s day, October 25th 1415, the day of the bloody battle of Agincourt.  Through all the furious fighting, the King constantly encourages his men, leading them on to an extraordinary victory.

11. PORTIA – Violin

The music follows the famous court-room speech by which Portia tries to persuade Shylock to renounce his claim to extract, as penance, a pound of flesh from Antonio, his debtor.  She tells him that
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath…..”
Portia explains that the pomp and ceremony, and also the fearful power of monarchs, is enhanced when mercy is ascendant, for “It is an attribute to God himself…”.

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