On CD: Shostakovich 8th
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8. Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra [Naxos].
By Mark J. Estren
With the third CD in his Shostakovich cycle for Naxos, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Chief Conductor Vasily Petrenko establishes himself in the front rank of interpreters of this music. Getting the Liverpudlians’ lower strings to growl with Russian depth and menace is impressive enough. Bringing tremendous drama and vitality to a symphony that can easily degenerate into bombast is more impressive still.
Shostakovich’s second wartime symphony, written a year and a half after No. 7 (“Leningrad”), is huge, conflict-filled but ultimately affirmative. It is also complex both structurally and in its frequent mood shifts.
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Petrenko takes the full measure of the music, starting with an intense opening of the first movement and progressing to an Allegretto that is rude and crude but proffers elegance in the high winds. The third movement here may be the best ever recorded: Raucous to the point of vulgarity, it is a nonstop clatter of screeching winds, pounding timpani and cutting trumpets atop snare-drum exclamations.
The contrast with the following Largo – Shostakovich’s first orchestral passacaglia – could not be greater: This movement is sweet, restrained and very moving. Then the whimsical bassoon and soaring strings of the finale become integral parts of a movement that can be overwhelming in its sheer loudness (the CD’s sound is unusually clear and bright) but that has something ineffable about its quiet coda.
This is, in all, a remarkably effective performance – at least on a par with Petrenko’s prior Naxos recordings of Symphony No. 11 and Symphonies Nos. 5 and 9. Petrenko, at 34, is delving into his Russian heritage to superb effect.
--Mark J. Estren
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