SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65 – London Symphony Orchestra/ Mstislav Rostropovich – LSO Live

by | Nov 18, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 65 – London
Symphony Orchestra/ Mstislav Rostropovich – LSO Live Multichannel SACD
LSO0525, 68:46 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi) ****:

The Shostakovich Eighth Symphony (1943), born as it is out of the dark
days of WW II, wrestles with a titanic pessimism of spirit, pitted by
occasional outbursts of mordant irony. A highly conflicted, epic work,
the Eighth owes debts to Mahler (the Seventh?) at least in the breadth
of its anguish, which might recall Mahler’s own epithet for the 20th
Century as “the century of death.” The lugubrious, often shattering
cries from the full orchestra alternate with individual punctuated
plaints from the English horn or the mumblings of the lower strings.
Typical of Shostakovich, the music often builds a terrific, inexorable
momentum, and, in the phrase of Yeats, “a terrible beauty is born.”

In surround sound, the splendid playing of the London Symphony assaults
our sensibilities in multifarious directions; the piccolo’s wailing
like a banshee in the second movement, the third movement a nightmare
motion interspersed with howls from the underworld. Later, bass
clarinet and solo violin ply their somber graces. When the music
finally settles into C Major, it is exhaustion rather than relief that
reigns supreme. The dotted opening theme, reminiscent of the black hole
implosion which opens the Fifth Symphony, becomes a bit of obsession,
repeated eleven times in the bass. For all of its massive size, the
music suffers a weird sense of claustrophobia, as if the world were
becoming as narrow as a coffin. Whether Shostakovich meant the music to
be a colossal dance of death or a series of grim depictions and
parodies of the Stations of the Cross, the symphony remains a daunting
exercise for performers and listeners. Rostropovich offers a brilliant
recording of chilling, troubling work, but you may purchase it
wondering how often you will wish to traverse its Dantesque landscapes.

–Gary Lemco

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