SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No 8
Andrey Boreyko, best known to record buyers as a skilful proponent of contemporary or near-contemporary music from the ex-Soviet bloc, has also been setting down a Shostakovich cycle with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he was lately principal guest conductor. Whether there will be further instalments is anyone’s guess now that the 70-year-old ensemble has been compelled to merge with the Baden-Baden- and Freiburg-based South West German Radio Symphony. Competition in these works is of course much fiercer than it is for comparable long-form pieces by Schnittke, Silvestrov or Górecki.
Boreyko’s Eighth proves to be expert, dignified and spacious, captured in compensatingly immediate sound and shorn of applause. That said, the reading is likely to disappoint those who look for a modern recording to replicate the ferocious intensity and paint-stripping brass of Yevgeny Mravinsky’s 1982 concert relay (now pitch-corrected after earlier anomalies). In Stuttgart we are trapped in a sonic mausoleum, at least until Boreyko’s initially friskier account of the finale. Even there the return of first-movement material feels heavy-handed.
Competition is offered by two recent recordings from Western orchestras under conductors born on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Of these it’s Vasily Petrenko’s RLPO that sounds most ‘genuine’ at the start, the strings in particular projecting their long sustained lines with remarkable authority and weight. The Stuttgart band may have been used to making stylistic adaptations under Roger Norrington but their sonority can seem a little non-specific by comparison, albeit less plush than Andris Nelsons’s Bostonians, their direction of travel less sure. True, the woodwind are up for it in the first scherzo, sacrificing beauty of tone for pungent Soviet-era expressivity, not that I cared for that movement’s deliberately clumsified pay-off. Much the same scrunching of gears happens at the end of the next. While the ensuing Largo is certainly deliberate, it was even slower and more poignant in the work’s first Western recording under André Previn (EMI, 10/73). And, authentic or not, Previn raced through the preceding scherzos with irresistible flair. We seem to have forgotten that this battleship-grey music is the product of a young man’s imagination. Boreyko, like most latter-day interpreters, is respectful, even stolid.
In short, while this package would make a fine memento of an evening out, there are better choices for remote collectors. The more so given that the English-language booklet notes are speculative, confused and poorly translated.