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Scofield's second recording after 36 years
on April 28, 2002
<King Lear> Is there a need for yet another recording of "King Lear"? If it is a superlative reading, then one would quote "Reason not the need" and accept it for a great addition to a swelling library of complete Shakespeare on recordings. We still have available on Caedmon audio tapes the 1965 "Lear" with Paul Scofield in the title role with Pamela Brown and Rachel Roberts as that particularly nasty pair of sisters, Goneril and Regan. 1988 brought out the BBC Audio Book (Modern Library) with Alec Guiness, Jill Bennett and Eilen Atkins in those roles. In 1994 there was a BBC Radio set with John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins (again) in those three roles; while a late addition to the Arkangel Complete Shakespeare series gave us Trevor Peacock, Penny Downie and Samantha Bond, Peacock giving a more domestic, less grand reading of the role.
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.