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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No.8 in C Minor Op.65 (1943) [63:05]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. 1989. DDD
DECCA LONDON 425675 [63:05] 

Sir Georg Solti came to Shostakovich rather late in his career. His pedigree as a Mahler conductor and his experiences as a musician from a land behind the Iron Curtain would suggest that Shostakovich's symphonies should suit him. However, although this performance of the Eighth promises much, it ultimately fails to deliver. 

The opening Adagio is actually pretty impressive, at first, with Solti drawing a full, throaty sonority from the Chicago strings. The inexorable, mournful pull of the music is reinforced by Solti's firm pulse, and his pacing is just about right – measured, but relentless. The Chicago brass in full cry at the climaxes are most impressive. Then something goes awry. Solti drops his game at the transition into the galumphing motif that begins about 14:30 into the movement. What was a great arc of music, building in tension with every bar, suddenly becomes a tad slack. The music's momentum is allowed to lapse and Shostakovich's gestures become more episodic and less significant. 

The second movement plods and ensemble begins to suffer somewhat, though the quality of the Chicago sound is still impressive. It is hard to define exactly why this movement lacks tension in Solti's hands. It is not a question of pacing, as he is faster than Barshai on Brilliant Classics and not much behind Jansons on EMI, but somehow both Barshai and Jansons manage to build the second movement into the third organically in a way Solti does not manage. His third movement also suffers from the lack of a clear pulse. Almost immediately, the entries become imprecise and tempo unsteady. The trombone choir that can be so impressively declamatory is here simply a bit messy. The orchestral support for the crazy lone trumpeter is muted. 

The big climax that opens the fourth movement – a moment that for me is forever tied to the image of Stalin's head bursting into flame, thanks to Tony Palmer – is very effective though. This movement brings a return to the apt pacing and organic growth, with some lovely solo playing from the lone bird piccolo, underlined by a bleak wash of sound from the strings. The finale packs a punch, but again I find Solti's approach episodic rather than integrated here. The final bars do not have the same ringing desolation that you find with Neeme Järvi's account on Chandos, which for me remains an overall first choice.

This is by no means a terrible recording. It just isn't a great one. 

Tim Perry 




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