Shostakovich: 8th Symphony (LSO Live)

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There was a year or so when it was touch and go whether Gianandrea Noseda or Simon Rattle was going to be the next music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. In the end the LSO got the best of both worlds, with Rattle as #1 and Noseda, now in Washington DC,  flying in three or four times a year with hair-raising performances.

This account of Shostakovich 8, which I regret having missed in April, is one of the most pungent and idiomatic on record. Noseda, who cut his baton as house conductor at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg, is steeped in Russian rhythms and mannerisms. 

He gets the fearsome bleakness of this wartime symphony and elicits some of the loneliest solos you will ever hear from the oboe (Juliana Koch), bassoon (Rachel Gough), piccolo (Patricia Moynihan) and cor anglais (Christine Pendrill). The blood chills at all the death and deprivation. 

The LSO lower strings sound like they could hold off a panzer brigade for a year and the transition to the C-major finale sounds – for once – neither artificial or coerced. Not since Kurt Sanderling, who gave some of the first run of performances with the composer in attendance, have I heard a Shostakovich 8 as bleak and vivid as this. The recorded image is a tad distant for my taste, but (as ever in the dismal Barbican) the ear eventually adjusts.

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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