Iím not convinced that
comparisons of CD timings are necessarily
very constructive. For instance apparently
"exciting" fast-paced performances
can actually be devoid of tension, simply
skating over the musicís surfaces. Seemingly
"slow" interpretations, well
articulated, can in reality be more
exciting. However, I believe in the
instance of the present disc some comparisons
at random from my shelves I came up
with the following overall timings for
the Eighth Symphony, in no particular
Mravinsky (BBC Legends Ė UK Premiere
at the RFH) [59:53]
Rozhdestvensky (Olympia) [62:37]
Rostropovich (LSO Live) [68.45]
Solti (Decca) [63:05]
Jansons (EMI) [62:29]
Sinaisky (Recent BBC broadcast in the
"Shostakovich and his Heroes"
Compare these with
the timing at the head of this review
and you will see that whilst Kofmanís
not quite out-on-his-own, he even manages
to out-Slava Slava and Rostropovich,
especially in recent years, has been
no speed merchant.
In the light of my
first paragraph, you might say what
does this matter? Alas in this case
I believe it matters a great deal, since
it is indicative of the conductorís
overall approach to the composer.
Kofman would have to
sit alongside Jansons as the most disappointing
Eighth I have heard. Whatever your views
about Shostakovich, this symphony, written
during the "Great Patriotic War"
(as Russians refer to it), is full of
tension. Whether its elements are coded
outbursts about Stalinism, the Nazis,
mechanized war, or whatever it is a
deeply felt and unsettling work, and
any interpretation should reflect this.
My own litmus test
is the short third movement, marked
allegro non troppo. Described
in the notes to the CD as: "another
scherzo, this time furiously evil"
(my italics). The writer continues using
phrases such as "pounding perpetuum
muffled blows", and "a
monstrous image of a blind and inhuman
engine of destruction". Thus
the repeated crotchet figure, begun
in the violas, must be restless, tense,
nagging, dogmatic. What appears in the
recording fails to match this description;
under Kofman it is simply a series of
well-played notes, reminiscent of a
singer "marking" a role at
Later in the middle
section - sometimes referred to as the
"circus music" passage - the
first trumpet leads the fray. Here the
sleeve-note writer describes the scene
as an apocalyptic picture of, "horsemen
riding over a corpse-strewn battlefield".
What we get on the disc is a recessed
trumpet line, tepid and devoid of real
energy or inner grit.
Conceding that the
third movement doesnít work, does Kofmanís
measured approach add gravitas to the
slower music in other movements? Alas,
no. The performance is still manifestly
short of inner fibre. The music becomes
simply slow and without purpose, meandering
and losing direction. Bluntly, it simply
doesnít seem to be "felt".
By comparison I donít
recall Bernard Haitink being particularly
swift in his Prom performance last year,
but the atmosphere in the hall was electric,
a fact which was palpable even to the
listeners at home on Radio 3. It felt
as if the audience hardly dared breathe;
the profound silence at the end of the
work speaking volumes. I couldnít imagine
Kofman emulating such a feeling in similar
Harsh words I know,
but itís a highly competitive market
out there. Itís anniversary year and
Shostakovich recordings, including admirable
cycles, partial cycles and individual
recordings, are rolling off the production
line with a fair degree of regularity.
Dabringhaus und Grimm are frankly up
against it, and have to produce something
distinctive to create a niche in the
market. Given such economic truths,
if the interpretation canít succeed,
can the sonics?
The Kofman cycle has
been an unusual exercise technically
so far. The first two issues, symphony
no. 10 and a coupling of nos. 5 and
9, were issued as joint CD/DVD-A packages
in a slim-line case. With the third
issue, the "Leningrad", MDG
appear to have changed horses in mid-stream
and converted to the hybrid SACD format.
Illuminating perhaps for the hi-fi buff,
but not very convenient for the average
However, as an interesting
twist, whilst the disc accommodates
stereo and 5.1 surround sound, MDG also
advocate their own multi-source listening
system, 2 + 2 + 2. This involves three
sets of speakers, one rear pair and
two sets of front speakers, one
at listening height, the other high
up above the ear-line. Quite how practical
this configuration is, especially in
trying to maintain domestic bliss, Iím
not quite sure.
Putting all this aside,
it has to be reported that listening
in conventional stereo, the sound from
the Heilig-Kreuz Kirche is pretty impressive,
the biggest climaxes coming across without
any feeling of constraint. An occasional
recessive quality of individual instrumental
lines is, I think, a factor of the interpretation
and nothing to do with the engineering.
Certainly the huge climax at the very
end of the third/opening of the fourth
movement is one of the few instances
where the performance seems to cut loose,
the percussionists capping the moment
with appropriate fervour.
So what do we have?
Overall this is a well-played, largely
well-recorded disc of what sounds like
a run-through or "work in progress"
... although I rather suspect it is
I requested this disc
for review as I had already purchased
a copy of the Tenth and was interested
to see whether my views of that recording
would be reinforced. They were. It seems
this is how Kofman sees the symphonies.
Itís a genuine view, no doubt genuinely
held, but sadly not one I, and I think
many others, will share.