9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The old, former Naxos series of Shostakovich symphonies had Ladislav Slovak as their experienced, knowledge-able conductor. His readings were engaged and serious, hampered perhaps only by relying on a less than first-rate regional band?
Now Naxos looks to be radically enhancing their catalog via an ongoing Shostakovich symphony cycle from no less than rising Russian star conductor, Vasily Petrenko, and his Liverpool band. The previously released fifth, ninth, and eleventh symphonies were plenty treasure in their way, and the current eighth symphony keeps all the composer's banners flying high.
A compelling chemistry seems operative, among the composer, the band, and the conductor. To tell the truth, I wouldn't have necessarily predicted that the next alluring round of a complete Shostakovich symphony set would arrive from Liverpool. But Petrenko has them playing as well as many competitors in these works, and the inspiration is hot, palpable. Each instrumental department is very strong, with the strings showing an intense discipline and precision. The recording venue is the band's home hall in Liverpool, and so far it is also serving the music well.
Petrenko and company do very nicely at melding and balancing the narrative core strength of the composer's characteristic musical voice with its subterranean codes, obscurities, tortures, mysteries. Lights and dark darks are deftly contrasted and integrated. The threads of manic-crazy despair are not slighted, though lament also rings out, true. Those infamous middle fast movements have more than enough brutality to go round, and then some. In the midst of bludgeoning tyranny, forward motion still carries us into some kind of somewhere else where hope is not quite yet, completely and finally extinguished. The concluding Largo is chilling, consonant, and impersonal enough - we survivors do not yet comprehend very much of all that it means and can mean, to have survived.
Nary a cheap shot moment, then, across all the movements of this odd and remarkable modern symphony. Petrenko as guest conductor has been taking his reading of the eighth on the road, with spectacular concert reviews published in Baltimore, San Francisco, and by now, probably elsewhere. Fortunately, if you missed one of these outings with the eighth symphony, you still have this new disc, the third so far released by Naxos in an ongoing cycle.
If Petrenko and Liverpool can keep this sort of high quality Shostakovich up, they might just achieve one of the most compelling and consistently well-played complete sets. Okay, then, grab this one as soon as possible. The disc really ought to be nominated for something.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The Milky Way of five-star reviews here is testimony to the success of the promotional campaign Naxos mounted for its replacement Shostakovich symphonies set, using a relatively inexperienced conductor and a less-than-world-class orchestra. Endorsed by British music scholar David Fanning as being "a natural Englishman" for his conducting of music by British composers, the Leningrad-born Vasily Petrenko was named Young Artist of the Year in the 2007 Classic FM Gramophone Awards (the British version of the American Grammy awards), and his first recording -- Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony by Naxos with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra -- was singled out as the 2009 orchestral recording of the year by Gramophone, the eminent British publication.
Before the talking points circulated to build momentum for the Petrenko bandwagon, a rather mixed reception was given to the first two releases in his Shostakovich cycle, the 11th and a disc pairing the Fifth and Ninth. Some critics described the performances as limp and unconvincing. BBC Music Magazine called the Ninth underwhelming, which was my reaction, too. This Eighth was the third Naxos issue, and judging by the reviews here, Petrenko and the Liverpool orchestra improved enormously. My ears tell me differently. One prolific listener describes Petrenko's opening as "discreet," praising him for being innovative. What I hear, after a 12-second silent runoff, is a willful misreading of the score -- being different merely for the sake of being different. If you set your sound controls thinking the opening chord is fortissimo as Shostakovich indicates, you'll have a hard time hearing the pianissimo 10 bars later at rehearsal No. 1. Petrenko starts closer to mezzo-forte, a change for which I see no justification.
In this first movement -- and throughout the recording -- the strings sound thin, undernourished. Clearly missing are the 10 double-basses Shostakovich called for to give this symphony its particularly dark tone. Either the horns are overly challenged or the recording engineers have done a poor job of microphone placement because they seem far in the background. Without wishing to belittle musicians' honest efforts, this is not the Royal Concertgebouw or the Chicago Symphony.
Petrenko takes the two scherzos much too fast. In the second scherzo, especially, Petrenko's fleet-footed 6:18 undercuts the movement's implacable march of destruction. (Compare Kurt Sanderling with the Berlin Symphony Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8, also an inferior orchestra nobody would mistake for the Berlin Philharmonic, at a time of 6:47 to hear the relentless assault this movement should impart.) The plainly flat trumpet solo at 3:26 is puzzling. I'm surprised a retake wasn't ordered. Perhaps Naxos' production schedule didn't allow for such refinements. Regardless, at Petrenko's jaunty tempo, the trumpet evokes Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass rather than a menacing vision of a whirling nightmare circus.
The fourth movement Largo also suffers from a pace too quick. At 9:34, it sounds like a cork aimlessly bobbing downstream, occasionally bumping into an obstacle but continuing on its way with no disturbing apparitions, no mystery, no terror. Because there is no tension, the ending in C Major comes with no sense of arrival, of release. Compare Sanderling in this passacaglia. It's not just Sanderling's timing of 10:32, but also his grip on sustaining the musical line that makes all the difference. In addition, the full compliment of double-basses mentioned earlier is noticeable by its absence in this movement of Petrenko's recording.
As cited by Michael Rofe in "Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich's Symphonies" Dimensions of Energy in Shostakovich's Symphonies. Michael Rofe (2012, p. 52), Shostakovich wrote in a Soviet journal in 1943 that it takes 64 minutes to perform the Eighth Symphony. Not knowing exactly how long the composer was allowing for pauses after the first and second movements or how that duration accounts for each accelerando and ritardendo and fermata makes it somewhat problematic to apply his 64-minute guideline to every recording, but Shostakovich's remark suggests performances of less than 64 minutes deviate from his intentions, which are marked with precision in the score. The total time listed for Petrenko's rapid run-through is 61:57, and that includes the opening 12-second runoff plus some 20 seconds of silence at the end.
Considering the prestigious award given Petrenko's CD of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, I expected the liner notes to mention the prominent quotations of Manfred's opening alienation motto at climactic points in the Shostakovich Eighth -- in the first movement at 17:02 (seven measures before No. 35) and in the finale at 8:47 (five measures before No. 161) -- but the obvious connection is never made. Did no one notice?
Instead of this lightweight Eighth, Mark Wigglesworth and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Symphony 8 in C Minor deliver a forceful performance on a BIS hybrid SACD. On Blu-ray and DVD, Andris Nelsons and the Royal Concertgebouw Lucerne Festival: Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 [Blu-ray] have everything Petrenko's recording lacks, including visual contact with the musicians. We sometimes forget it's possible to listen to music and also see it being produced by flesh-and-blood human beings at the same time. Nelsons' concert at Lucerne reminds us we can.