Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 8 in C minor
PERFORMER: LSO/André Previn
CATALOGUE NO: 437 819-2 DDD
Previn’s earlier EMI version of the Eighth with the LSO, though presently unavailable on CD, is still regarded as one of the benchmarks by which other Western performances of this wartime masterpiece must be judged. Not surprisingly, his 1992 remake covers similar interpretative ground, but with the added benefits of superior engineering. It’s a performance of great architectural strength – there’s an awesome control of pace and intensity throughout the long first movement, and Previn’s surefooted conception of the emotionally equivocal finale is deeply impressive. If the central fast movements lack the kind of venom one associates with Mravinsky, they are nonetheless gripping. But perhaps the most extraordinary playing of all occurs in the Largo’s passacaglia, where the frozen stillness of the sustained pianissimo sends shivers down the spine.

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A similarly bleak landscape opens the Eleventh Symphony, but while Inbal secures wonderfully refined playing from the Vienna Symphony, there’s little sense of uneasy calm, and the movement as a whole sounds unnecessarily long-winded. Later, Inbal manages to exert a more urgent grip on proceedings, and there’s some forceful articulation in ‘The Tocsin’. But as a whole, this rather emollient performance doesn’t make out the best case for what remains a problematic work. Erik Levi