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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

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Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 1975)
Symphony No. 8 (1943)
Rehearsal Sequence
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Mariss Jansons
recorded in the Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh 9/11-2-01 - DDD.
EMI CLASSICS CDC 5 71762-2 [75.10]

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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 first rate.

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.

John Phillips


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