SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 8 – Kirov Orchestra, St. Petersburg – Valery Gergiev, conductor – Philips

by | Jun 7, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 8 – Kirov Orchestra, St. Petersburg /Valery Gergiev, conductor – Philips 446 062-2, 63 min. ****:

When I signed on for this disc, I was expecting another in Gergiev’s artistically successful recent Shostakovich cycle with the Kirov Orchestra; those discs have thus far been multichannel SACDs, and I was hoping the same would apply to this one as well. What showed up at my doorstep is a repackaging of a 1994 recording with the same forces, and who knows whether Philips decided not to re-record the Eighth Symphony or it was just a shipping mix-up – needless to say, I was a bit disappointed when I opened the package. No need for worry, though – this disc is among the most well-recorded and dynamic Shostakovich 8’s available on Red Book CD.

Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony had been an artistic and critical triumph in Russia and the outside world, and with the impending end of World War II, Russian officials were hoping for another triumphal statement in Shotakovich’s Eighth. What they got was an intensely anguished, brooding twenty-five minute long opening Adagio, and the symphony was immediately lambasted by the Russian regime as “unpatriotic.” The work was embraced outside of Russia, however – Serge Koussevitsky led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the American premiere and praised the music for its depth of emotion.

Emotion is something that this disc has in spades; the players obviously know this music well, and pure emotion spills forth from the opening notes of the Adagio. The third movement, Allegro non troppo, is one of the most harrowing six minutes in music history, and the fourth movement Largo opens with a crash of drums, tympani and gongs that’s almost ear-shattering. I can’t help but believe that this symphony is an indictment of Stalin and his oppression of the Russian people – those are the kind of images I see when listening to this brilliant piece. The recording is superb, and will test the limits of your system’s resolving powers. Very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs


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