Another milestone in Vassily Petrenko’s magisterial Shostakovich Symphony survey with this cracking Eighth, a work rapidly gaining stature as the equal of the Fifth and Tenth.
Petrenko’s timing in the opening movement, 25’, is splendidly central (although this is by no means a middle of the road performance). Mark Wigglesworth, a fine Shostakovich interpreter, takes 29’ and the equally fine Oleg Caetani takes 20’, proving there’s more than one way. The latter three movements – allegretto (actually a scherzo), largo (essentially a ghostly passacaglia) and a second allegretto – fascinate me as superb examples of emotional ambiguity.
These are equal, I think, to anything in Mahler. The playing throughout is magnificent and it’s obvious conductor and orchestra have developed a spectacularly effective synergy. All sections acquit themselves nobly (this is not a work which tolerates any orchestral “passengers”) but the woodwinds in particular (rapid flute trills) convey that sense of bleakness unique to Shostakovich. The ambiguity intensifies in the last movement as repeated “attempts” to lighten the mood come to nothing, unable to prevent a central traumatised paroxysm.
The beautifully paced final bars, with flute and pizzicato strings sounding like the breath ebbing from a dying body, are especially haunting. If you prefer a “slow” as distinct from consciously overwrought version of this work, this is probably the one to have.