there have been two notable discs of Russian performances
of Shostakovich 8. One is a reappearance of an entirely Russian
affair from 1982. The other has been liberated from and by
the British Library and involves a Russian conductor and
the then virtuoso British orchestra. To my discussion, I
have added the long deleted original Mravinsky recording
(Leningrad Philharmonic, 1947: BMG-Melodiya 74321 294062)
its historical status and as a comparator because one of
the two recent releases features the same orchestra and conductor.
with that 1947 premiere studio session.
was a Shostakovich stalwart. He gave more major orchestral
premieres than anyone else. He conducted the first performances
of symphonies 5, 6, 9, 10 and 12; not to mention The
Song of the Forests, Cello Concerto No. 1 (Rostropovich)
and Violin Concerto No. 1 (David Oistrakh).
wrote the Eighth Symphony at a startling pace while staying
at Ivanovo the composers' haven north-east of Moscow. It
was premiered by Mravinsky in Moscow on 4 November 1943.
After five years of concert life it slipped into silence.
Its ambivalence or even sarcasm won oblivion. Expectations
had been of a triumphant war symphony for the domestic and
international arenas - perhaps a successor to the glare and
panoply of the Seventh. In any event it did not have 'permission'
to reappear until the 1960s when it was taken up first by
the much derided Alexander Gauk (on Russian Revelation RV10061)
and then in the West in the 1970s by Previn (EMI Classics).
series arrived in the late 1980s and featured ‘no-noise’ technology
- a brand of audio fundamentalism that produced scrubbed-up
sound that I find quite listenable like that secured by Boheme
but which others anathematised as disembodied and lacking
can see from the comparative table below,
Mravinsky took things at a generally slower pace than he
did some thirty-five years later.
movement lumbers forward developing an indomitable intensity.
The performance excitingly conveys the baying urgency of
the horns at 15.23. One also hears the Seventh's bombast
at 16.32 and 16.57. The second is characterised by a heavily
emphatic gait. While III - a thudding allegro non troppo -
has that satirical-knockabout trumpet solo with side drum
at 3.51. No wonder it was looked at askance in some quarters.
This sounded too much like the latter two movements of the
Sixth and much of the Ninth. Even so there's always that
image of pennants snapping and cracking in the Revolutionary
gale – just as they do in a much earlier work, Miaskovsky’s
of the 1947 is in fact shorter than in Mravinsky's 1982 version
where he took longer in the other four movements.
on to that 1982 version. This has appeared before on the
Philips Legendary Recordings series. I have not heard that
disc so perhaps others could comment on any differences in
sound. In any event Regis, who continue to strike staggeringly
attractive deals on deleted material, have done well to land
this one. It should do handsomely and certainly deserves
first movement the sustained high string writing sounds superb.
The grip and thunder of the furious third movement is a delight
to hear after the narrower world of the BMG-Melodiya sound.
In the finale he is just a little too hurried at 11.59 beside
his countryman Svetlanov. That ticking three-note figure
sounds almost dismissive. There are however many extraordinary
moments in this reading including the 'speaking' solos for
viola and woodwind at 9.50 onwards. It is as if the instruments
are in intimate communion. This forms an introduction to
a section that sounds tenderly like his friend Prokofiev's Romeo
and Juliet score.
disc is from BBC Legends. The sound is more close-up
than the Regis and full of impact. The stereo is more splendid
and detailed in the manner of the very best BBC technology.
Bass response is extended and realistic. The gritty and grating
brass - the LSO outdoing even the Leningrad desks -
are closely caught; all extremely exciting. The downside,
if you must have one, is that perhaps the depth of field
is crowded. Frankly though it is unlikely that you will notice
this. The experience of hearing this disc is instantly gripping
and involving. The hysteria is better conveyed - with a toweringly
mordant response. Svetlanov has a superb orchestra at his
these three discs Svetlanov’s finale is the longest by more
than two minutes than Mravinsky 1 and about 1:30 than Mravinsky
2. That malevolently ticking clock in the finale-epilogue
(13:10) to the niente end is more close-up and tenderly
held; the strings more piercingly affecting.
is a live performance but the audience noise is minimal and
the applause, thank God, is held back for those precious
moments of silence.
we go from here? You will want to track down the 1947 Mravinsky
as a historical document even if it was recorded four years
after the Moscow premiere. It's not the first place to go.
The Regis is a compelling choice if you are drawn to Mravinsky
- and I am. The sound is good with a natural concert hall
perspective and a sense of occasion. It's an excellent choice
at bargain price and is unmissable if you crave the authentic
Soviet tradition. However in this company the outright recommendation
has to be Svetlanov. It has a potent combination of vivid
sound and gripping interpretation that burns as brightly
now on your CD player or IPod as it did when it first came
into being at the RFH in the Winter of 1979.