SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SHOSTAKOVITCH: Symphony No. 8 – Mariinsky Orch./ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky

An excellent recording and performance of this lesser-known symphony.

Published on December 18, 2013

SHOSTAKOVITCH: Symphony No. 8 – Mariinsky Orch./ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky

SHOSTAKOVITCH: Symphony No. 8 – Mariinsky Orch./ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky multichannel SACD MAR0525, 65:38  (11/12/13) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****: 

This 8th Symphony of the Russian master is not a work performed very often, but it is very much worth hearing. From the first movement, the symphony is very reminiscent of the more famous 5th Symphony, and the structure and melodies are very much similar. As the symphony progresses, it takes on a more unique sound. The 8th symphony was written in 1943 and first performed that same year by the USSR Symphony, and the work is dedicated to it’s conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky, to whom the work is dedicated.

Despite its general lack of performance, some critics think the 8th is among the composer’s finest works. The 8th is a five-movement symphony, with the first movement running almost half an hour. Early reviews of the 8th were not enthusiastic, mostly because the music paints a rather bleak picture. The last movement, in contrast to the more famous 5th, is somber and not triumphal. The Soviet government wasn’t pleased with the music either, and performances were effectively banned until 1956.

The performance here on the Mariinksy label is first rate. Conductor Valery Gergie gets a thrilling performance out of the Mariinsky Orchestra. This can not have been easy music to play, but the performance is very tight and flawless to my ear.

In terms of acoustics, this SACD is certainly well-recorded. The orchestra sounds like it should from an excellent seat in the house. Instruments are not miked at too close a perspective, so there is an excellent blend yet the separation across the fronts speakers is very good. The rear channels carry ambiance from the lovely Mariinsky Theater music hall. The dynamic range of the recording is very wide, yet there is no distortion or blurring of the orchestral image during loud passages.

If you like Shostakovitch, but haven’t heard the 8th, you are in for a treat. If you have heard it, this excellent performance is worth seeking out.

—Mel Martin

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