Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Symphony no 8 in C minor op 65

Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
Recorded in the Eugene McDermott Hall, Dallas, in January 1996
DELOS DE3204 [59:17]
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It is hard to understand why Shostakovich's Eighth was neglected for so many years after its first performance in 1943. 'I believe it is one of the greatest 20th century works', says Andrew Litton, and I agree with him. No one surpassed Shostakovich in the portrayal of raw emotion or in making a powerful personal statement in a symphony. If the predominant mood is one of bleakness punctuated by outbursts of savagery that is hardly surprising, given the date of its composition. Whereas the more popular Seventh Symphony portrayed the destructive power of fascist hordes, the Eighth is about the suffering which war brings, a message it conveys with painful clarity. The work is also wonderfully structured: there's nothing else quite like the passacaglia which lies at its centre.

This is a superb recording. In the long first movement Litton builds the tension with sure judgement and the two big climaxes are shattering. The dénouement which follows is notable for a lovely cor anglais solo. The demented shrieking of the woodwind in the allegretto is electrifying as are the relentless motor rhythms of the allegro non troppo (unlike some conductors, Litton scrupulously respects the non troppo instruction). The passacaglia is heart-achingly bleak and the mood of resignation with which the symphony ends is beautifully captured.

On this form it's clear that the Dallas orchestra can compete with the USA's 'big five': a splendid corporate sound, virtuoso soloists and an especially vibrant horn section. The recording is vivid, clear and spacious. Highly recommended.

Adrian Smith

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