Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Rienzi: Overture (1838-1840) [13:19]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome, Op. 54: Dance of the Seven Veils (1909)
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 (1943) [67:39]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
Video director: Ute Feudel
Picture: 16:9, 1080i HD
Sound: PCM stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region: A, B, C (worldwide)
rec. live, 4 September 2011, Concert Hall, KKL Luzern, Switzerland
C-MAJOR UNITEL 710004 Blu-ray
It’s good to see more Shostakovich appearing on DVD and Blu-Ray. The recent Fifths from Leonard Bernstein and the LSO – review – and Yutaka Sado and the Berliner Philharmoniker – review – are both superb. Coincidentally it was with the BP that I first heard Andris Nelsons conduct the Eighth, a taut, hard-hitting performance accessed online via The Digital Concert Hall. Now in charge of the CBSO, Simon Rattle’s old band, Nelsons has had good reviews in both the concert hall and opera house, conducting Lohengrin on the opening night at Bayreuth in 2010. Given his passion for Wagner – attributed to a performance of Tannha(user he attended as a youngster – it seems fitting that this Lucerne Festival concert should kick off with the overture to Wagner’s early opus, Rienzi.
And goodness, what a fine performance it is, from that glorious trumpet solo at the start through to those dance-like episodes and imposing climax. There’s plenty of bite and amplitude here, although – in PCM stereo at least – the bass lacks solidity and the brass has a bright edge at times. That’s hardly a deal-breaker when Nelsons shapes the music so naturally and builds tension so well; besides, it’s clear from his endearingly goofy grin that he’s enjoying every minute of this effervescent score. I’m much less persuaded by his reading of the Strauss though, as it lacks the febrile, slightly crazed intensity of, say, Solti or Bernstein. That said, those strange string curlicues and sinuous rhythms emerge with telling clarity.
Given these minor reservations, how does the Shostakovich fare? The start of the first movement has seldom sounded so inward, its pulse so faint; as for those upward, string-driven spirals they’re superbly done. Immediately one senses Nelsons has this music at his expressive fingertips, the manic energy and big, rolling tuttis of the movement’s second half dispatched with terrific weight and splendour. It’s the inner landscape that impresses most, the drained, bloodless ending both miraculous and moving. True, the sound isn’t quite as expansive or as three-dimensional as that on Sado’s Shostakovich 5, but it hardly matters when the Concertgebouw play with such sophistication and subtlety, or when the performance is so gripping.
The twitching Allegretto is equally arresting, rhythms drum tight and articulation pin sharp. Nelsons’ tempi are perfectly judged too, the minutes passing swiftly and with oodles of ear-caressing detail. This is shaping up to be a remarkable performance, the Allegro non troppo blessed with a transported trumpet solo that’s every bit as thrilling – nay, intoxicating – as that on Mravinsky’s live Amsterdam CD (Philips). And if that weren’t enough the timps, side-drum and tam-tam are a knock-out, the long, singing lines of the Largo a masterclass in sustained loveliness. The start of the Allegretto is perkier and more playful than most, that pivotal peroration simply seismic; as for the distilled beauty of the lingering finale, I’ve never been so profoundly moved by it as I was here.
It’s quite some time before the deep spell is broken, Nelsons lowering his baton and clasping his hands in silent gratitude, perhaps as much to the composer for this masterpiece as to the orchestra for their peerless playing. I’m simply awe-struck by the level of insight and understanding that Nelsons brings to this score, making it a worthy companion for the likes of Mravinsky and Wigglesworth – on CD and SACD respectively. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say this is the finest version of the Eighth I’ve heard, irrespective of format. Normally the mildly disappointing Strauss would preclude me from making this a Recording of the Month, but in the presence of such a paradigm-shifting symphony nothing else will do.
Fine Wagner, good Strauss, inspired Shostakovich.