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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 (1943).
Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mark Wigglesworth.
rec. Music Centre for Dutch Radio & TV, Studio MCO 5, Netherlands, 20-22 December 2004. DDD
BIS SACD1483 [69'54]

Not often do we find a conductor annotating his own recordings, yet here is Wigglesworth providing the booklet notes too ... and very informative they are too. He clearly has something to say in sonic terms as well, for this is an account of the Eighth that is certainly individual.

The Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra is an excellent ensemble, although a certain lack of tonal body to the violins suggests that it is perhaps not absolutely first class. This manifests itself most strongly in a certain carefulness on the part of the players and this in turn points towards a lack of saturation in the music. And the most important ramification of this is that the sheer terror that resides in this work's strongest climaxes is missing.

Thus the imposing beginning reveals the low strings' tonal heft but also the violins' shortcomings. And for proof of short-changed climaxing, try the big moment of the first movement - around nineteen minutes in. It is impressive - especially in a recording as spacious, powerful and detailed as this one - yet it is emphatically not bone-chilling. The post-cataclysm cor anglais (Miriam Hannecart) sings her baleful song most effectively, however.

Better is the first of the work's two scherzos; very determined and possessed of great brass definition. A pity the very end is very careful, very microphone-aware. The second Scherzo could have been even more relentless. The crescendi could never be called frightening, although the final one does lead very effectively into the austerity of the Largo. The real pianissimi of this latter movement may force you to listen - wonderful control by the Rotterdam strings here as they convey impressive, disturbing stasis.

The bassoon that opens the finale is like a shaft of light, while the macabre dance around 3'40 - its nature may perhaps be best described as bizarre-sleek - is very well done indeed. The same can be said of the leader's contributions later on all credit to Joris van Rijn.

There is much to admire here. Wigglesworth is a fast-maturing conductor and it is good that we have this opportunity to track his career. The Netherlanders respond well and with devotion to his direction, and the sound secured by Bis is beyond reproach.

This is in no terms a first recommendation, true, but it represents a fascinating seventy minutes worth of listening.


Colin Clarke



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