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Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 (1943) [60’26].

Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev.

Rec. Live recording, venue unspecified, from 1999. [DDD]

RELIEF CR991056 [60’20].


Relief’s never less than fascinating catalogue of Fedoseyev performances continues with this Shostakovich ‘War’ symphony, the Eighth. This is, ultimately, a frustrating Eighth that gains interpretative depth and momentum as it goes along. At the end, one does feel that one has been in the presence of genius (Shostakovich, not Fedoseyev), yet try starting the disc again and it is another story.

True, the recording quality lends the strings a thinness in the first movement that hardly helps, yet it remains a fact that a more true to the spirit account would have shone through this limitation. Along the way (and this is a relatively extended movement – 24’38), there are some touchingly brooding wind solos (an outstanding cor anglais in Said Agishev), and a brazen march around the quarter of an hour in does little to dispel the prevailing loneliness of this score.

The recording presents a block to full enjoyment of the second movement, also: Fedoseyev and his Moscow forces play this march-scherzo with all the dynamism one could wish. If only it was presented with more space and depth, it would be altogether a more impressive achievement.

It is with the third movement, however, that we have take-off. The relentless tread is superb (only trombones at 1’53 sound cautious). Trumpets (around 3’40) sound almost as if they are at the circus and towards the end of the movement there is heart-stopping excitement. All that was there in embryo in the earlier movements struggling to get out reaches maturity here. No surprise, then, that the underlying disquiet in the stillness of the Largo is magnificent. Shostakovich’s scoring is well-realised: try the spectrally spooky flutes, for example. The overall conception of the finale, also, does not fail to disappoint, despite a couple of uncertain moments.

Mravinsky, the work’s dedicatee (and who premièred the symphony in November 1943), is available on BBC Legends BBCL4002-2, the orchestra the Leningrad Philharmonic, a performance given in the Royal Festival Hall in September 1960. This remains preferable to Fedoseyev who, whatever the power of individual moments in his reading, fails to make the work cohere as an individual statement.

What a shame, also, that Fedoseyev’s audience feels compelled to applaud immediately at the close, breaking the atmosphere.

Worth having as a supplement to the Eighths already extant in one’s collection, possibly, but unrecommendable as the only one.

Colin Clarke


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