C Major has given us two outstanding disks, both recorded live in September 2011 at the Lucerne Festival, the one under review here and the other with the Beethoven "Emperor Concerto" and Scheherazade as the major pieces (see my review). Both feature the great Concertgebouw Orchestra (rejuvenated in the past two decades and, as my friend Clive S. Goodwin observes elsewhere, with a welcome increase in women musicians) under the incredibly gifted young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons. My first encounter with Nelsons was the recent Barenboim/Chopin piano concertos DVD recording (Arthaus: see my review) where he provided stunning accompaniment for the soloist with the Staatskapelle Berlin. As can be expected, C Major's audio and video are state of the art, much superior to some other labels.
Wagner's Rienzi Overture and Strauss' Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome are orchestral showpieces, brilliantly played with ample opportunities for the first desks to shine in their solo passages. Tempi are fairly slow, but to no detriment of the musical impact. Regarding musical substance (don't ask me to define the term in a brief review...) they may be lightweight, but they provide a welcome counterpoint to the Shostakovich 8, a multi-layered, dark, brooding and often sarcastic piece, arguably this composer's most "difficult" symphony, a journey of way over an hour's music through pain, despair, angst, defiance and lament. I have heard many readings of the symphony, most of which appeared to stay on the music's surface, unable to come to grips with the shifts in mood and to get to the core of this symphonic microcosm. Suffice it to say that, from the first bar through the pseudo-optimistic and ultimately subdued finale, Nelsons and the Concertgebouw musicians deliver a deeply felt, immensely powerful and equally nuanced reading. The highlighting of details is in part due to the overall rather deliberate tempo, which I find appropriate to the symphony's inner development. For once, the tempi of the two grotesque scherzi are perfectly right, the Largo does not drag, but shines in its bleak beauty, and the entire musical experience is utterly moving. If you love the symphony, get this disk.