Having just auditioned the Shostakovich Eighth with Mstislav Rostropovich, I had mixed feelings about traversing this gloomy, lachrymose work again, its often bleak sensibilities drawn from the world of 1943. Jordania’s recording dates from January 2003, inscribed in Bolshoi Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Moscow. The Russian Federal Orchestra is Jordania’s own ensemble, and he elicits the same kinds of response his mentor Mravinsky (the work’s dedicatee) achieved in Leningrad.
Much of the first movement writing reminds us of the more popular D Minor Symphony No. 5, emanating the same austere panorama over haunted punctuations in the middle strings. There sound evocations of Nature, but they seem ineffective in diminishing the anguish of soul permeating this music. The juxtaposition of militant and wasteland imagery creates a Winter of Our Discontent. The first Allegretto possesses a gallows humor close to the spirit of Prokofiev. The piccolo dances over the shell craters; or it might be that butterfly’s prancing at the end of Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front. We feel that musically and spiritually, the trip to Baba Yar – the composer’s Symphony 13 – is only over a small hill. The Allegro non troppo churns a kind of evil moto perpetuo, with demented, often percussive riffs from a Bach toccata. The instrumentation for the last two movements, along with the texture, thins out, permitting more air into the confined, dense spaces of the earlier movements. A grudging lyricism intrudes; perhaps something like normal life is possible. The woodwind dialogues yield to a strong theme out of the lower strings, although martial rhythms taint everything. The full orchestra rises up in revulsion to the war mania, and the broken string figures, along with low winds, suggest a drunken man after a long bout with his affliction.
The 1954 Festive Overture is Shostakovich’s impromptu response to a commission from from Bolshoi Theater conductor Melik-Pashayev for a commemorative piece for the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution. After an hour of the C Minor Symphony, the music plays like the Fool’s part in King Lear. Jordania gets his pizzicato strings to sound like balalaikas, and the riffs in winds and horns are dizzying. Whether this Overture can lift you out of the Symphony’s melancholy is for you to decide when you add the disc to your collection.