Shostakovich 8 – RLPO/Vasily Petrenko

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Shostakovich
Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Recorded 6 & 7 April 2009 in Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool


Reviewed by: Christopher Breunig

Reviewed: May 2010
CD No: NAXOS 8.572392
Duration: 62 minutes

 

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In 1969 Herbert von Karajan took his Berlin Philharmonic to Moscow, performing Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony in the composer’s presence (Melodiya has issued this on MLCD 1001513); he also made two BPO stereo recordings. So why not the equally great Eighth, I have often pondered. Maybe Vasily Petrenko provides the answer: the first ten minutes or so of this compelling recording are so raw, so unremitting that maybe Karajan knew the score defeated his constant requirement for beautiful sound.

Of course, Petrenko is far too young to have lived through the Stalinist repressions which informed interpreters like Kurt Sanderling, Barshai or Mravinsky (the latter’s 1960 London performance on BBC Legends BBCL 4002-2 is a ‘must have’) but to say that he pitches in is an understatement. Incidentally, he chose the work for his San Francisco SO debut this April (2010). I do feel the third movement, Allegro non troppo, could have had even great force at a reduced tempo, but for overall tension this surpasses previous RLPO instalments in this Naxos series. And like Karajan, Petrenko obviously has the skill of gearing a complete performance to a climactic point – in this case the ambiguous final coda, those flickering embers which leave no easy resolution.

The antiphonal exchanges in that second scherzo are rhythmically precise and the various solos throughout have real quality. (Just because the RLPO records principally for Naxos, and before that Eminence, it would be wrong to think of it as a ‘budget-label’ orchestra.) The playing carries far more conviction than that of the WDR in Barshai’s disappointing remake (Brilliant Classics), whereas his earlier EMI/Bournemouth Eighth is worth looking out for. The bassoon part in (v) is a reminder that, unlike the frozen wastes of Sibelius, Shostakovich always populates his symphonies – this episode always makes me think of a straggle of outdoor night workers one of whom starts a comic dance. Possibly the ensuing allegro is an example of the composer’s writing at its worst – or maybe he was being deceptively clever! Either way, it’s good to listen to a recording which makes you think about the music itself, whilst admiring the playing and sound: the vast scale and dynamic range of the Eighth is finely caught by Andrew Walton/Phil Rowlands (the Previn/EMI and Haitink/Decca were similarly impressive, sonically, when first published).

Richard Whitehouse has written an exemplary accompanying note wherein he describes the structure and orchestration besides giving the historical context: ideal for new listeners.

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