This live performance of the Shostakovich 8th
is the next issue in the sporadic journey that Jansons is making through
the Shostakovich Symphonies for EMI with a variety of orchestras. So
far, we have had No.1 with the Berlin Philharmonic, No.5 twice, with
the Oslo Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic (the former, considered
by many to be superior, now deleted). Back to the Oslo Philharmonic
for 6 & 9, then 7 with the Leningrad Philharmonic, 10 and 11 with
the Philadelphia Orchestra, and lastly No.15 with the LPO.
Now we have No. 8 added to this generally very fine
series, and it continues very much in the vein of the earlier issues.
Evidently, EMI was not prepared to fully fund this recording and so
the Orchestra via its generous sponsors (the Emma Clyde Hodge Memorial
Fund) put up the money to buy the necessary recording equipment for
the recording. I hope for the sake of the Orchestra and its conductor
that it does well, as I feel that EMI deserves to support Jansons and
his orchestra more than they obviously do.
There were more than one performances of the symphony
which were part of the 2001 series of concerts in Pittsburgh and this
disc is the result of the work being recorded live there. It is the
first recording of a Shostakovich symphony with this orchestra, and
lets hope that it is not the last. The acoustic of the Heinz Hall is
superb, and the orchestra sounds very immediate and highly proficient.
The searing string cantilenas of the first movement
and the repose in the last movement come over perfectly, the orchestra
following its conductor to a man (or technically also woman). The motoric
second and third movements are hard driving and extremely exciting.
It must have been a wonderful experience to have been in the audience
when the performances were being recorded.
How does the performance rate against others currently
available in the catalogue? The standard of the playing is as good as
any other performances I have heard and the recording is absolutely
The type of performance is well known to owners of
Jansonss other recordings immaculately prepared and performed plus
that additional spark which makes certain recordings very special. In
some earlier Russian performances (I am thinking specifically about
Kondrashin on BMG) there is an extra demon present in the rapid passages
which is quite toned down in the Pittsburgh performance, but this is
the only point of comparison where the earlier disc outshines the current
issue, albeit by only a short margin. In contrast however, the tragic
sections of the work come over with much more feeling (the earlier recording
here is a little superficial).
We have as a bonus, a portion of the rehearsal of the
symphony, where Jansons covers the background to the symphony and how
to relate to it in this modern era. (Did I detect the spark in the rehearsal
which I felt was slightly missing from the finished product?). Maybe
there was a bit of caution because of the recording. Still no matter,
it is insignificant and I suggest if you want more symphonies from this
conductor, support this recording and show EMI just what they are missing.
There are six to go to make a complete cycle, and of all the conductors
around today who could make a highly competitive cycle, Jansons is the
one. No matter if it is split between orchestras so far there has
not been a bad one in all of the issues released so far.