Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 8
Valery Gergiev, cond; Mariinsky O
MARIINSKY 0525 (SACD: 65:40)
Few symphonies span the breadth, drama, mood swings, and instrumental diversity of Shostakovich’s Eighth; thus, it’s easy to understand why no single interpretation could express all of its potential. It may also explain why so many of its recent recordings have received disappointing notices from a variety of
critics. Of course, most agree, as do I, that
Mravinsky’s 1982 account is
(it’s currently available on both the Alto and Philips labels, although there is apparently a slight difference between them in the tape speed used, which may not be noticeable to most listeners). On the other end of the spectrum from Mravinsky’s taut, propulsive reading is that of Maxim Shostakovich (Collins Classics)—bleak, ominous, elegiac, one of the slowest on record. Among more moderate versions that fall between these two, I’ve enjoyed, at various times for various reasons, Gerard Schwarz, Mstislav Rostropovich, and even Bernard Haitink (whose Shostakovich is generally not to my taste).
Which brings us to the new Gergiev—his second recording of the Eighth. The first, from the mid-1990s, with the same orchestra (then named the Kirov Orchestra of St. Petersburg), was reviewed by Royal S. Brown in
20:1, who found it “a deceptively straightforward performance that some may find overly restrained … he allows both the drama and music to speak for themselves.” I wouldn’t exactly characterize this one as restrained
straightforward, deceptively or otherwise, but it does allow the music to speak for itself without sacrificing any of the drama. Admittedly, Gergiev avoids exaggerations regarding dynamics and rhythmic shifts—which Rostropovich, for one, usually handles quite well. Nor does he rush; this performance is slightly more than two minutes longer than his previous one, but there’s plenty of momentum, although there are moments, especially at the end of the epic, episodic first movement and again in the Symphony’s closing pages, when he slows down to a crawl in order to evoke an utter stillness. What he does best here is build towards the several monumental climaxes—the one in the slashing third movement really packs a wallop. Throughout, Gergiev impresses with his ability to sustain a level of intensity without overreaching—the long stretches of emotional landscape in the first and fourth movements are brooding but not bleak, the two scherzos are powerful without sounding frantic, and he prevents the music from sprawling by emphasizing varying textures and instrumental colors along the way. In fact, the members of the orchestra deserve equal credit, and the soloists—several strings, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, piccolo, flutes, and brass—acquit themselves honorably.
There’s just one curious point that needs mentioning. The disc cites three recording dates—June 2011, May 2012, and March 2013—implying that this is an edited composite of pieces stretched out over
. If so, I can’t detect any discrepancies of detail or performance. Purists may look askance, but somewhere Glenn Gould is smiling. As it happens, I haven’t been a big fan of Gergiev’s Shostakovich in the past—and does his name really deserve to be three times the size of the composer’s on the front cover?—but if you haven’t heard this Symphony in some time, Gergiev might remind you how great a piece of music it truly is.
FANFARE: Art Lange
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 8 in C minor, Op. 65 by Dmitri Shostakovich
St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1943; USSR
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