You'll like Andris Nelsons, even if you don't care for his interpretations. If that sounds like a strange leadoff statement to make in a review, you'll understand it fully once you see him: no conductor I've seen ever conveyed a more likeable persona from the podium than Nelsons. He smiles broadly most of the time, even during some of the darker moments of the grim Shostakovich 8th Symphony. He simply has a way of imparting a sense of fun and enjoyment to the proceedings, even if the music is dead serious, as it is in most of this concert. Okay, so he may be a congenial fellow but, you ask, what are those interpretations like?
His tempos tend toward the moderate-to-slow side, especially in the Shostakovich. This 8th, despite his smiling and pleasant demeanor, is grim and deliberate, conveying a sort of hushed desperation. But it's sometimes an explosive desperation, too. The third movement (Allegro non troppo) is quite deliberately paced, but with a colorful middle section and crushing ending. The first movement (Adagio – Allegro non troppo – Allegro – Adagio) has monumentality about it and is filled with tension and a wartime atmosphere. The second movement (Allegretto) is more austere than what one usually hears, but the music still attains good momentum and exudes that Shostakovichian mixture of playfulness and sarcasm. The fourth movement Passacaglia (Largo) is dark and weighty and quite effective, while the finale (Allegretto – Allegro – Adagio – Allegretto) offers a few bright spots (as it should), but comes across ultimately as ghostly and crushingly tragic, especially at the powerful climax, after which the music sort of limps along and then closes in a mesmeric haze.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra plays brilliantly throughout the symphony and in the other two works as well. The Rienzi Overture is moderately paced and quite effectively captures the spirit of early Wagner; that is, Nelsons doesn't attempt to search out profundities that aren't there, but instead captures the work's colorful and slightly pompous character. The Strauss Dance of the Seven Veils is also moderately paced, but features a thrilling ending. Overall, it is highly atmospheric, quite effective in capturing the sinister sensuality of the piece.
The camera work is excellent throughout and the sound reproduction quite vivid. All in all, this is an attractive offering by Unitel Classica/C Major. There are strong Shostakovich 8ths by Kondrashin, Järvi, Rozhdestvensky, Litton, Previn and probably a few others, but this is, I believe, the only video performance of it available. But even if it were only offered on CD, this 8th by Nelsons would still be a contender. The other two works have also received countless effective performances on record, but Nelsons turns in strongly competitive work here as well.
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings