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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 (1943)
Beethoven Orchester Bonn/Roman Kofman
Rec. Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche, Bad Godesberg, 26-28 Oct 2004. DDD



A mixed account here, that starts promisingly and then fails to live up to that promise. The recording is fine – the percussion-driven climaxes that characterise this work come across well – but one hankers for that bit more, an extra that an SACD incarnation would surely provide.

The Beethoven Orchester Bonn is a fine orchestra, but perhaps not a world-class one. Much of the time there is much evidence of careful rehearsal and a real sense of united effort. Yet it seems the orchestra cannot abandon itself to Shostakovich's large-scale canvas, stuck, frequently, in the moment.

The account begins well, with a shifting sense of unease that is entirely appropriate. The music unfolds ominously and darkly and the strings can carry long, unaccompanied unison lines well. There is even a sense of manic intensity, highlighting the arrival of the distorted march at around 16'40 in the first movement. The famous cor anglais solo is marvellously plaintive, almost like a cry in post-nuclear fallout.

The second movement illustrates this reading’s failings. Fairly incisive, it remains without great internal drive and smoothes over, to a great extent, the grotesque. In fact it is fair to say that there is a certain stiffness – born perhaps of lack of sympathy with this repertoire – that is confirmed in the Allegro non troppo third movement. Not particularly motoric, the major failing is that the punctuating chords sound careful for the microphones. Listen out, though, for the excellent trumpet playing at around 3'50 in.

The fourth movement Passacaglia returns to the feeling of unease that began this symphony, here within an atmosphere that strives towards the peaceful. A shame that the moment of C major arrival at the outset of the finale lacks the requisite luminous qualities. Throughout this movement there is a tangible sense of going through the motions – even the crushing dissonances are only fairly impressive.

A shame, then. A somewhat flowery booklet nevertheless includes all salient information.

Colin Clarke



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