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alternatively Crotchet

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 (1943) [61:14]
((I) Adagio-Allegro non troppo [25:08] (II) Allegretto [5:51] (III) Allegro non troppo-[5:34] (IV) Largo-[11:16] (V) Allegretto [13:23])
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 8-9 February 1973
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 5090242 [61:14] 
Experience Classicsonline

It’s good to see this classic recording of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony returned to CD, as part of EMI Classics’ “Encore” series. It will be remembered that this was the first recording of the symphony made in the West. It followed the famous recordings from the
Soviet Union by the eminent conductors Mravinsky and Kondrashin, but was able to hold its own against theirs. It still does and is arguably a better performance overall than Previn’s later one with the LSO on DG. Where that one enjoyed a somewhat plusher recording, it lacked the excitement of new discovery that is so well displayed here — especially in the second and third movements. I can’t think of a better way to introduce a newcomer to this work than by hearing this wonderful recording. In its latest incarnation, it sounds terrific. Previn holds the sprawling opening movement together very well and then makes a real contrast with the following “mock march”. The tempos of that movement and the following scherzo may seem a bit fast in comparison with other recordings – for instance, Haitink’s equally highly regarded version with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Decca - but there’s no gainsaying the excitement that Previn provides in spades here. The trumpeter does a spectacular job with his famous solo in the third movement, but then the whole orchestra outdoes itself for Previn throughout the symphony. The passacaglia fourth movement and the final Allegretto are also beautifully performed and interpreted, both in their quiet and powerful moments. Previn brings out plenty of orchestral detail: xylophone, snare drum, flute and contrabassoon parts near the end of the second movement. He also sees the ‘big picture’ and delivers a convincing whole from beginning to end. I still have a slight preference, however, for Haitink’s broader finale. 

One textual matter: When this recording was made in 1973 an apparently corrupted edition of the score was used. It was also used by Haitink for his 1982 recording. Since then the more recent recordings, including Previn’s second LSO effort, have used the correct edition. Overall, this makes no appreciable difference. However, it has been pointed out by critic David Gutman (Gramophone, January 1995) that there is a small variant in the violin solo (a smoothly ascending line) that leads to the finale’s C-D-C coda present in these earlier recordings (11:30-11:40 in Previn, 12:53-13:04 in Haitink). This should in no way deter one from obtaining this Previn CD, but is worth pointing out all the same. 

There have been too many recordings of the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony issued since this pioneering effort to make structured comparisons in the space of this review. I have heard some of the more recent ones, if only in passing, such as those by Jansons and Gergiev. While I’m sure that many of these are worthy to stand comparison with Previn’s or Haitink’s for that matter, this Previn version is one of the very best and even more attractive at its superbudget price.

Leslie Wright


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