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.