When it comes to symphonies about war and fascism, Shostakovich is the man. Sure, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Martinu, Hindemith, Holmboe, Walton, and Vaughan Williams all wrote symphonies about war and fascism, but who else but Shostakovich wrote so many? Starting with the Fourth in 1934, it could fairly be said that Shostakovich wrote nothing but symphonies about war and fascism until he died in 1975. Right in the middle of the Great Patriot War, Shostakovich wrote the Eighth in C minor, a five-movement work with more pain and agony per bar than any other symphony ever written, and that includes Pettersson.
The question is, does it have to hurt this bad? In this 1985 recording by Vladimir Fedoseyev and the USSR Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra, it sounds like Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and Franco are taking turns beating and battering the audience to death. The playing of the USSR is hard and harsh, with blaring trumpets and wailing brass, strident violins and violent double basses, penetrating flutes and baying bassoons, and a percussion section the size and subtly of an artillery barrage. The conducting of Fedoseyev is blunt and brutal, with devastating downbeats, slashing attacks, crushing crescendos, and a sense of tempo that destroys everything in its unswerving path. Although few listeners will survive its relentless fury, Fedoseyev and the USSR's Shostakovich Eighth is far and away the most painful and the most agonizing performance of the work ever recorded. The Moscow Studio Archive's sound is as hard and brutal as the performance.