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