Shostakovich Symphony No. 8
London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
LSO Live LSO0822 (hybrid CD/SACD) 65:08 mins
Shostakovich’s music is never ‘tasteful’. Bleak, sarcastic, alarming, often wickedly playful, yes. All these qualities are certainly to be found in the Eighth Symphony – though scarcely, it seems, by Gianandrea Noseda. An often fine conductor, here he achieves a near miracle and makes this, one of Shostakovich’s most ferocious works, written not long after the victory of Stalingrad, sound deadly dull.
The LSO’s playing is technically faultless and polished, but absolutely poker-faced: the second movement has scarcely a hint of biting sarcasm, nor is there edgy menace in much of the rest – least of all the third movement which appears to degenerate into a tedious high-kick dance. Perhaps Noseda’s intention was to demonstrate that, notwithstanding its notoriously histrionic qualities, the Eighth can be regarded purely as music with total disregard for any of its ‘extra musical associations’. Perhaps he is trying to avoid the ‘rhetoric and coercion’ Robin Holloway infamously accused Shostakovich’s music of. In any case, Noseda’s account has utterly purged the work of all expression, let alone feeling, until the brief, incongruous appearance in the finale of the woozy bass clarinet and folk-style fiddler brings an unexpected splash of colour – far too late to save the performance.