Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572392


Vasily Petrenko has been leading his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to seemingly impossible heights in Shostakovich. But could the deepest, darkest symphony of the 20thcentury, the Eighth, encourage them to compete with those orchestras and/or conductors – Mravinsky, Svetlanov, Neeme Järvi, Rostropovich, Rozhdestvensky – who have lived through the earth-shattering events which inspired Shostakovich’s most seismic passages? 

At first I wondered, especially when Rostropovich’s last performance in concert with the LSO carries an almost unbearable weight of feeling. In the opening movement, Petrenko does everything right – dynamics, slow pace but with crystal clear articulation, impeccable crescendos and dimuendos – without quite suggesting the layering you get in the LSO Live performance. Perhaps that’s because his recording is very up front and, though vivid, doesn’t allow much in the way of perspectives.

Even here, though, there are things that Rostropovich doesn’t achieve in the same way, above all the intensity of the string marcatissimos, quite beyond anything I’ve heard. The forward yet never rushed propulsion of the two war-machine movements is unique, too; and while the painful post-holocaust passacaglia doesn’t quite freeze the blood like Rostropovich’s, the levels are kept sensitively low and no flutes fluttertongue more scarily than these Liverpudlians.

A more eccentrically but still plausibly paced history-repeats-itself finale is crowned by supernatural string chords in the cautiously optimistic coda. This is a model of clarity, then, and yet another Petrenko performance to join the greats. David Nice