Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Russian Disc
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Symphonies Nos 9 & 12
CATALOGUE NO: RD CD 10 917 AAD
Without exception, all the recordings Mravinsky made of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony are very special. The conductor premiered the work in 1943 and seemed to understand better than most its underlying message of bitterness and despair. Indeed, no interpreter has rivalled Mravinsky in encompassing the work’s disturbing shifts of mood without ever relinquishing an iron grip on the large-scale symphonic argument.

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Nowhere is this more convincingly realised than in the carefully calculated build-up of tension during the central Allegro of the long first movement – a section that in lesser hands can so easily run out of steam before the final, terrifying climax. At the opposite end of the dynamic spectrum, Mravinsky is equally adept at making us hold our breath through the frozen landscapes of the Passacaglia. This live recording from 1982 is clearly mandatory listening.

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There’s a similar concern with symphonic logic in DePreist’s versions of the Ninth and the Twelfth, though the American conductor is less successful in projecting the anti-militarist irony that underpins the outer movements of the Ninth. Nonetheless, I much enjoyed the performance of the Twelfth, particularly as DePreist somehow manages to avoid a bombastic approach even in the disappointingly empty finale. Erik Levi