Reviews: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 - Gergiev
|Site review by Castor October 28, 2013
|This is the fifth release in Valery Gergiev's on-going cycle of Shostakovich symphonies with the Mariinsky Orchestra and is arguably his finest performance since Symphonies 1 and 15 were released in 2009 Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 15 - Gergiev.
Gergiev's second recording of Shostakovich's other 'war symphony' - the 'Leningrad' that appeared last year Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad" - Valery Gergiev was characterised by some controversially slow (some might say sluggish) tempi that certainly imbued the work with a suitably epic quality, but at the expense of forward momentum. No such charge can be levelled at this gripping account of the monumental Symphony No. 8.
Gergiev's tempi for each of the symphony's five movements are expertly conceived. The immense tri-partite opening movement builds quite slowly, but with an inexorable trajectory, and the feeling of uneasy calm before the gradual journey to the movement's shattering climax is palpable. The power of the relentless snare drum, howling horns, piercing woodwind and characteristically baleful Russian brass make the contrast with the disconsolate cor anglais solo and desolate final pages all the more poignant.
Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra again do not pull their punches in either of the aggressive scherzo-like movements that follow. The biting and sardonic playing of the orchestra's wind section in the first of these two short militaristic movements is matched by the terrifyingly relentless ostinato of the strings in the second. In the ensuing lugubrious passacaglia , Gergiev's firm grip of the music's underlying pulse perfectly conveys the music's melancholy desolation, yet he maintains tension throughout its ten minute span and avoids any suggestion of stasis. He even manages to bring a trace of acerbic humour to a finale that, far from celebrating triumph, ends with a coda of profound stillness and enigmatic calm.
This recording is taken from performances given in the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre over a period of almost two years – from June2011 to March 2013 - but such is the consistency of Gergiev's conducting, no sense of dislocation is apparent in either performance or recorded sound.
It is unfortunate, however, that the conductor's all too audible groaning is present in a number of passages throughout the symphony – usually when the strings alone are playing. This will irritate some listeners more than others, but be warned.
The 5.0 surround recording has a good spread and depth, but does need to be played at a high volume setting to bring maximum presence to the sound.
Even in a CD market saturated with recommendable recordings of Shostakovich symphonies this performance is more than worthy of attention from prospective purchasers and makes one eager for the rest of this compelling cycle to appear.
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