Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 8

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - Symphony No. 8 - Vasily Petrenko (Conductor) - Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra - Naxos 8.572392

"Compared to the acute sureness of touch of the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Symphonies, the Eight swings a sandbag against the listener's skull. Tremendous in conception and often overwhelming in execution, it is none the less more admirable for its intentions than its deeds". {Ian MacDonald - The New Shostakovich}

"The Seventh and Eight symphonies are my Requiem . . . The terrible pre-war years. That is what all my symphonies, beginning with the Fourth, are about, including the Seventh and Eight". {Dmitri Shostakovich}

Regardless of all the ink that has been spilt and all the books that have been written formulating numerous diverging opinions, political or musical, about the Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 by Dmitri Shostakovich, it is still in my opinion one of the greatest, along with his Seventh, musical statements of the 20th century. It defines the times in which it was written. If you want to know what 1943 Russia was like, listen to this symphony. The dark and baleful opening of the first movement, so representative of Shostakovich, should be enough to convince anybody about the spirit behind this symphony.

This recording is the third installment on Naxos of a complete Shostakovich symphony cycle under the direction of Vasily Petrenko, who was named 'Young Artist of the Year' at the 2007 Gramophone Awards. Already on the market are strong interpretations of the Fifth, Ninth and Eleventh symphonies, and this new recording of the Eight is just as demonstrative, if not better, of this conductor's deep understanding of the potency of the music at hand. His reading is constantly solid, constantly reaching below the outer surface to reveal the inner meaning. Nothing is taken out of context. The slow and quiet sections in particular are given special attention. The mysterious Largo, which puts an abrupt end to the preceding cataclysmic brutality of the Allegro, is exceptionally well done in this recording. The desolation, the almost religious obstinance of the three-note motif on the cellos and basses that seems distant and oblivious to everything else that all the other instruments are playing. The aural effect of two separate musical entities playing against each other is well captured here. And of course, the beautifully enigmatic ending of the whole work is given the sense of serenity it requires to be effective. At the very end, the final three notes are the same as the ominous three notes that open the symphony, but this time the second note, which was descending and menacing at the start, is now ascending and hopeful.

"Life is beautiful. Everything that is dark and gloomy will rot away, and the beautiful shall triumph". {Dmitri Shostakovich}

Winner of the 2011 International Classical Music Award (ICMA) for best Orchestral recording.

Jean-Yves Duperron