Prequel: My thanks to the reader who has informed me of the double listing of this review - one correct and one incorrect. Unfortunately this is a common software problem, especially where listings share similar titles, and cannot be corrected by reviewers. Please be patient and understanding therefore and either scroll down past this review or read it for unintentional additional interest if appropriate! Best wishes - Ian Giles ........................................................................ The Haitink recording review follows:
This disc, first issued in 1983, was one of the first in Haitink's series and it set the bar high. The recording was always impressive with wide range and depth. The performance and interpretation are also also both impressive as one might expect from this well-tried and trusted combination. Thirty years later it still sounds, and is, impressive.
The playing of the Dutch orchestra is of the highest and both Decca and Haitink make sure that everything can be heard and that it is effective in a controlled. non-emotional way. What is not attempted is the sort of raw emotional edge that Mravinsky provided in his 1982 'live' performance and available on Philips. That has an intensity that is very special but Haitink's version still delivers a very satisfying version.
Previn, in his first much admired LSO version on EMI, gives a more showy version where the speed adopted for the third movement, for example, is just a bit too fast for the trombones to articulate cleanly after the more nimble trumpets. This is counter productive as it introduces an element of heaviness and this is not to be found in Haitink's concept where everything he does is definitely attainable by his excellent orchestra.
Since those performances there have been others, the most notable recent one being the fine version with Petrenko on Naxos. That has more fire than Haitink, less than Mravinsky and a standard of playing that is also excellent. The Dutch orchestra has more sheer weight at the big moments though.
My solution to all of this has been to retain Haitink, to add Petrenko and to delete all other performances previously owned on disc. I find that this gives a good coverage of the two symphonies and both are in good sound.
I would suggest that either Haitink or Petrenko would make an excellent 'only' version but that collectors would probably benefit by owning at least both of these. Beyond that I would suggest that Sanderling is impressive and Mravinsky is a uniquely driven performance.
This therefore could be fairly summarised as a solidly impressive account in all departments except that of raw emotion. For that, purchasers will have to look elsewhere.
Further informative comment from the UK comments section with thanks to Raymond Clarke:
This is indeed a fine recording, but I hope that one day ICA (the successor to BBC Legends, it seems) will issue Haitink's performance of this symphony from the 1983 Proms; hearing it on BBC Radio 3 I remember it as being even more intense than this Decca recording, but memory can be unreliable and we can sometimes idealise performances which we heard only once!
To which Previn LSO performance do you refer? When editing, correcting (and in many places having to rewrite) Ian MacDonald's book on Shostakovich, I had cause to contact Mr Previn about his EMI recording of No. 8, and in his reply he commented that he "infinitely prefers" (his words) his later DG version with the same orchestra.
Mravinsky's Philips performance is unrecommendable, for technical reasons: the reel-to-reel master tape was running about 5% too fast when the transfer was made so the tempi are falsified, as is the pitch, which is a semitone too high. The recording has subsequently been reissued in a corrected transfer, but as a performance it falls short of other Mravinsky recordings of the symphony from 1947, 1960, 1961 & 1976. What is so frustrating is that his finest recording of the Eighth Symphony (from 1976) remains unpublished - the tape was authenticated by Mravinsky's regular sound engineer, Mravinsky's widow authorised its release, I wrote (and was paid for) the booklet notes for its projected CD issue, but somehow the disc was never issued and only a handful of us involved in the production ever heard the tape. I left some comments about it after one of the reviews of a transfer of the 1982 recording: Symphony 8
For twenty-odd years, this was the best available recording of Shostakovich's bleak masterpiece. The playing of the Concertgebouworkest is of the highest order and Haitink's view of the work is well-considered with no contentious tempos or affectations. The recording was made in the Concertgebouw's inimitable Great Hall and the digital Decca sound is clearly detailed and perfectly balanced. I don't think anybody looking for a disc of this work would be remotely disappointed with this recording but seek out the usually much cheaper re-release [ Shostakovich: Symphony No.8 ] and spend the difference on Mravinsky's legendary 1982 account recorded live with the incomparable Leningrad Philharmonic [ Symphony 8 ]. It's a performance that commands your attention and, if you only want one version, is now the one to go for.
Excellent performance of the 8th the recording is old but still sounds good. Recommend this to anyone interested in Shostakovich symphonies. The Haitink symphony cycle must be one of the best available.