SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op.
65 (1943) [61:14] ((I) Adagio-Allegro non troppo
[25:08] (II) Allegretto [5:51]
(III) Allegro non troppo-[5:34] (IV) Largo-[11:16] (V) Allegretto [13:23])
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey
Road, London, 8-9 February 1973
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 5090242 [61:14]
It’s good to see this classic recording of Shostakovich’s Eighth
Symphony returned to CD, as part of EMI Classics’ “Encore” series.
It will be remembered that this was the first recording of the
symphony made in the West. It followed the famous recordings from
the Soviet Union by the eminent conductors Mravinsky and Kondrashin, but was able to
hold its own against theirs. It still does and is arguably a better
performance overall than Previn’s later one with the LSO on DG.
Where that one enjoyed a somewhat plusher recording, it lacked
the excitement of new discovery that is so well displayed here
— especially in the second and third movements. I can’t think
of a better way to introduce a newcomer to this work than by hearing
this wonderful recording. In its latest incarnation, it sounds
terrific. Previn holds the sprawling opening movement together
very well and then makes a real contrast with the following “mock
march”. The tempos of that movement and the following scherzo
may seem a bit fast in comparison with other recordings – for
instance, Haitink’s equally highly regarded version with the Concertgebouw
Orchestra on Decca - but there’s no gainsaying the excitement
that Previn provides in spades here. The trumpeter does a spectacular
job with his famous solo in the third movement, but then the whole
orchestra outdoes itself for Previn throughout the symphony. The
passacaglia fourth movement and the final Allegretto are
also beautifully performed and interpreted, both in their quiet
and powerful moments. Previn brings out plenty of orchestral detail:
xylophone, snare drum, flute and contrabassoon parts near the
end of the second movement. He also sees the ‘big picture’ and
delivers a convincing whole from beginning to end. I still have
a slight preference, however, for Haitink’s broader finale.
textual matter: When this recording was made in 1973 an apparently
corrupted edition of the score was used. It was also used by
Haitink for his 1982 recording. Since then the more recent recordings,
including Previn’s second LSO effort, have used the correct
edition. Overall, this makes no appreciable difference. However,
it has been pointed out by critic David Gutman (Gramophone,
January 1995) that there is a small variant in the violin solo
(a smoothly ascending line) that leads to the finale’s C-D-C
coda present in these earlier recordings (11:30-11:40
in Previn, 12:53-13:04
in Haitink). This should in no way deter one from obtaining
this Previn CD, but is worth pointing out all the same.
have been too many recordings of the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony
issued since this pioneering effort to make structured comparisons
in the space of this review. I have heard some of the more recent
ones, if only in passing, such as those by Jansons and Gergiev.
While I’m sure that many of these are worthy to stand comparison
with Previn’s or Haitink’s for that matter, this Previn version
is one of the very best and even more attractive at its superbudget
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