Mark Wigglesworth

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8

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Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 Review

by James Leonard

Conductor Mark Wigglesworth made his major-label debut on BMG in 1995 leading Schoenberg's chamber orchestra version of Mahler's symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, but since then he's concentrated almost exclusively on the symphonies of Shostakovich for BIS. He started with the gargantuan Seventh in 1996, topped that with a combination of the searing Fifth, the blistering Sixth, and the bludgeoning Tenth in 1997, then topped that with a devastating Fourteenth in 1999, all of them with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Six years later, BIS released Wigglesworth's follow-up, the harrowing Eighth, with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and it proves to be as successful as his previous Shostakovich recordings. Wigglesworth is an individualist among Shostakovich conductors and while there is no less agonizing pain and monumental suffering in his interpretations as in the great Soviet performances, there is also a deep and profound faith in humanity that they understandably lack. In Wigglesworth's Eighth, the excruciating climax of the opening Adagio is tempered by the warmth of the following bassoon melody and the extreme violence of the Allegretto and Allegro non troppo is balanced by the compassion of the Lento and the optimism of the closing Allegretto. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, after years under master orchestra builder Edo de Waart, turns in performances as stunning as the BBC Wales, but with perhaps more subtlety and color. While the iron-fisted Mravinsky/Leningrad and the heartbreaking Kondrashin/Moscow arguably remain the most catastrophic and apocalyptic recordings of the Eighth, listeners looking for an uplifting alternative interpretation might try Wigglesworth. BIS' super audio sound is too quiet in pianissimos, too loud in fortissimos, and too detached the rest of the time.

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