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SACD Review

Dmitri Shostakovich

Symphony #8, Op. 65

Russian National Orchestra/Paavo Berglund
PentaTone Classics 5186084 Hybrid Multichannel SACD
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The listener's reaction to this disc may well depend on his or her view of this symphony, in my opinion Shostakovich's greatest. The composer's partisans may favor a slower, ponderous approach to the work, particularly in the first and fourth movements. I have preferred brisker tempos, over the years finding Kondrashin the most compelling conductor of this massive, dark score. In at least two recordings of this symphony, he takes about 52 minutes. Berglund here clocks in at more than 66 minutes. While I don't believe that we judge performances by the stopwatch, sometimes the stopwatch can be most telling. With Berglund here, that's the case: his approach is quite ponderous, wringing out the work's anguish and fear as if under the spell of the composer's Fifteenth Quartet, a bleak late work comprised of six adagios.

The third movement of this symphony comes across best here, I think, Berglund's less-driven tempo quite workable in conveying a sense of dread, of impending doom and catastrophe. He draws fine playing throughout the work from the Russian National Orchestra and is given good sound from PentaTone. Still, I find his tempos just too slow for my taste, though he makes a good case for his approach – a hardly radical approach today, since many conductors are in step with him in this symphony. Depending on your sensibilities, you may well like this recording: it is undeniably impressive in its powerfully atmospheric character and emotional commitment.

Copyright © 2006, Robert Cummings