Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 [2013]

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Dmitry Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 in C minor is not one of his better known works because it languished during WWII, in the shade of his popular Fifth and Seventh symphonies, and it has been comparatively neglected in modern performances. Part of this was due to the symphony's grim tone and dark scoring, which earned it Soviet criticism after its 1943 premiere, and in 1948, an eight-year ban. Yet it has slowly found appreciation as one of Shostakovich's great tragic works, and its ambiguous character seems more authentic to audiences today, especially since Shostakovich's doubts and struggles came to light in the post-Stalin era. Treating the symphony as a kind of prolonged elegy, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra sustain the music's serious mood and subdued expression, giving the work a somber cast. Because the second and third movements generate propulsion and have an unmistakable sardonic bite, and the finale provides an active, if not victorious, ending, there is sufficient contrast to comport with symphonic expectations. However, the work as a whole leaves a pessimistic feeling, from the dissonant counterpoint of the first movement, and the brooding Largo, which never admits a ray of light. The performance by the Mariinsky Orchestra is clear and detailed in the DSD recording, though the sensitive multichannel format picks up Gergiev's exertions and humming, so the audio isn't immaculate.

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