Shostakovich performed by Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by 
Andris Nelsons

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 5, 8 & 9; 
Hamlet Suite, Op. 32a
PERFORMER: Boston Symphony Orchestra/
Andris Nelsons
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 5201

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Not everything on these two discs may be on quite the same level of unremitting intensity and insight as Andris Nelsons’s first Shostakovich on CD with his Boston Orchestra, the Tenth. But this Eighth goes even further, if only because this most adamantine of the 15 symphonies demands even greater concentration from performers and listeners. The sound is a crucial component: to hear the highest frequencies of shrill piccolos and the presence of the bass in the biggest vertical shocks is to conjure up images of skyscrapers burning and toppling. And yet alongside Nelsons’s unique feeling for rubato, the sheer expressive beauty of the string playing, the constant surprises when the torch passes to the many aching or screaming woodwind solos and ensembles also represent a tonal sophistication beyond Mravinsky’s and Rozhdestvensky’s Soviet ensembles.

It’s only in the patchier Fifth Symphony that a bit more roughness would’t have gone amiss – the first movement development needs an uglier, more grotesque cortege led by a more outspoken piano. Had this Ninth been issued at the time of my BBC Radio 3 Building a Library earlier this year, it would certainly have been among the top five, but a slight heaviness about the opening movement and a millimetre less intensity than the best in the finale mark it down slightly. Certainly there’s no more expressive bassoon solo on CD, and the central scherzo is dazzling. Plenty of character, too, in extracts from the first set of Hamlet incidental music (written for the 1932 stage production), the music-hall dances deliciously sly. But hear the Eighth at any cost.

David Nice

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