Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 8
Evgeny Svetlanov, cond; London SO
BBC LEGENDS 4189, analog (65:51) Live: London 10/30/1979
Compared to Rostropovich, Rozhdestvensky, Barshai, and Mravinsky, Evgeny Svetlanov’s discography of Shostakovich symphonies is small, but that does not mean that he didn’t have an affinity for them, as this release so strongly attests. If he made a studio recording of the Eighth, however, I am not aware of it, so this release fills a gap. How large that gap is depends on how one feels about
Svetlanov. Conventional wisdom states that his Russian recordings tend to be sloppily played and raggedly recorded, but there’s an animal excitement on many of his discs that is missing from more polished readings. In David Patmore’s booklet note, we are told that Svetlanov revered Nikolai Golovanov, which doesn’t surprise me, as both conductors could be absolutely galvanizing when conditions were right, even if they frequently did not have the best resources at their disposal.
Svetlanov was a frequent guest in London—both with the LSO and the Philharmonia. (His EMI recording of Glazunov’s
with the latter orchestra is one of my desert-island discs.) The present performance dates from 1979, the year in which Svetlanov was appointed as the LSO’s principal guest conductor. His London appearances and recordings gave listeners an opportunity to evaluate his work away from the “distinctive” timbres of Russian ensembles and the shallow, blaring engineering typical of the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
While I wouldn’t want to give up favorite recordings of Shostakovich’s Eighth (Haitink’s on Decca, for example, and Mravinsky’s 1982 version on Philips—sharp pitching notwithstanding), Svetlanov’s live account is very successful, and could be recommended as a strong supplementary version. The sound is pretty good, although there’s a layer of tape hiss that is noticeable mostly in quieter passages—like a steady rain falling outside of Royal Festival Hall. Curiously, it disappears for about 20 seconds near the end of the opening movement. There’s also audience noise—not in any critical passages, thank God—and, during the first part of the Largo, the faint suggestion of tape print-through or some other signal struggling to be heard. This is a demanding, exposed score, and there are a few tiny mishaps from the players, but these hardly are enough to spoil the overall impact.
Svetlanov’s reading is on the slow side—not as slow as Wigglesworth’s on BIS (almost 70 minutes), but slower than Jordania’s (just over 58 minutes). This slowness is felt most strongly in the first two movements. Although tension does flag briefly in the middle of the second movement, the other tempos feel well judged. Svetlanov conducts a monumental first movement. The third movement becomes a terrifying indictment of the stupidity of war, and the fourth a numbed elegy for what and who has been lost. Svetlanov does well in the enigmatic fifth movement too, and its closing—one of the most laconic pages in classical music—makes its necessary impact. All in all, this is a fairly subjective reading—one in which the conductor’s personality is felt, but is not allowed to take over. I think it has a place in the library of any serious Shostakovich collector.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 8 in C minor, Op. 65 by Dmitri Shostakovich
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1943; USSR
Date of Recording: 10/30/1979
Venue: Live Royal Festival Hall, London, England
Length: 65 Minutes 51 Secs.
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