Review by georgeflanagin November 3, 2006 (9 of 10 found this review helpful)
|ADHD Summary: If you are unfamiliar with this work, this recording is a fine choice with which to begin your exploration. However, "8" is one of the more complex of Shostakovich's symphonies to get "right." The sound is good, but we expect that, yes?
Buying the disc
Tower Records in Richmond VA is now a thing of the past. For me, that means a $400/month after-taxes raise in pay. I went to the 20%-off and then the 30%-off graveside services, and this disc was collected in the latter adventure in retail. With the Beethoven and Bach long gone, it was easier to find the more obscure labels and 20th century composers. I had a grocery sack-full when I left the store. More reviews to follow!!
 The music
8 is in the middle of the symphonic list, preceded by the well known 7 with its Bolero-like march, and followed by the satirical 9 which is slight enough to sometimes be played by student orchestras. The first movement of 8 is a mini-symphony in its own right, and many people seem to evaluate 8 by the size and scope of this half hour soundscape the same way that other people evaluate /Parsifal/ by the length of the first act.
The second and third movements are shorter at six minutes each, and up-tempo. Together, they breathe a little life into the otherwise Siberian desolation.
The fourth (Largo) and fifth (Allegretto) movements go together, and when combined they are about equal to the first movement in weight and duration. The Largo begins with a Mahlerian that ends life as you had known it for the previous 43 minutes. It stretches out and unwinds, allowing the listener to contemplate the death and destruction before more bad things happen six or seven minutes from the end.
8 is one of those pieces after which you prefer to have some silence, for the heart, the mind, *and* the ears.
 The competition
My favorite had long been Slatkin on RCA until Kitajenko's recording on twelve disc Capriccio set came along. My first copy of Kitajenko's recording would not play, and one of the dangers of buying any big set is that you may not discover the glitches until after the return period has expired. On the other hand, I have purchased perhaps 3500 CDs in the past 20 years, and have only had three bad ones.
All reviewers in the slicks have stated that Kitajenko's is one of the highlights of his cycle, and I agree. In a word, it is towering. But to appreciate why it is so great, a listen to some other approach is necessary, and Kofman has a good alternative and education.
The Beethoven Orchester Bonn has a string tone that is seamlessly "together," reminding me a bit of the Karajan BPO performances in the mid 1970s. The orchestra is light on its feet (whatever that mixed metaphor conveys to you), and abrupt halts, of which there are many, are handled with precision. Overall, the playing is fine and I would like to hear more of this orchestra.
From a spiritual standpoint, I think Kofman has the idea that "bleak" is best suggested to the audience through making the performance sound "lean." I was almost hungry by the end of the disc, as there is nothing "fat" about this performance. Consequently, the performance is less forboding and ominous than either Slatkin or Kitajenko, each of which stress the dread rather than the simple abdication of hope.
 The sound
First: the track mark for cut 4 is, I believe, one bar late, making it something of a jarring experience if you want to rush home after purchase to hear the Largo because it is your favorite movement. I almost became another statistic: "49 year old man found dead on sofa. Apparent Shostakovich-induced heart attack."
Because so many people in this group have the Kitajenko performance, I did my sound comparison by putting the Kofman disc in the Onkyo, and Kitajenko in the Sony, and switching between the two at various points in the performance. All listening was done in the quiet of the afternoon, with the Meridian rather than the Quad electronics, and the subwoofer in circuit. Neither of these discs is one that admits to even a small amount of room noise. In fact, I would just wait until you can afford a quiet house before you tackle the Shostakovich 8.
The MDG disc is balanced more naturally, and in comparison, the Capriccio disc sounds dark. I think this is an artifact of the recording process and the venue rather than the balance of volume within the orchestra because the Capriccio disc has a number of non-musical rumbly sounds in the background, and that phenomenon suggests to me a hand on the tilt control.
The venue for Kofman is, I believe, the Heilig-Kreuz Church in Godesberg, with which I am entirely unacquainted. It is a well chosen spot, though. The acoustic has a fairly short reverb time, which helps make the textures in this monumental symphony easy to perceive.
About the MDG 2+2+2 sound ... to quote Donald Rumsfeld, "Who knows?" I know no one who has a 2+2+2 set up, but I am going to ask Tom Craggs of Blue Oasis Audio to give it a try. I shall present a follow up when this audition is made.
Good disc. If we didn't have Kitajenko ...
George Kelly Flanagin
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