Producer: James Mallinson
Engineering: Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded: Live in DSD, November 2004,
Barbican Hall, London

Shostakovich wrote his Eighth Symphony (from a total of fifteen) in the summer of 1943, across a period of around ten weeks. It was given its first performance on 4 November that year by the USSR Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Evgeny Mravinsky, to whom the work is dedicated.

Expectations were high, for Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, associated with the siege of Leningrad, had been adopted both in Russia and the West as a symbol of resistance to the Nazis. It was hoped that the Eighth would follow in its patriotic footsteps – earlier that year the German Sixth army had been annihilated at Stalingrad, the siege of Leningrad has been lifted, and the Nazis were in retreat.

What should have been a symphony of heroism and victory turned out to be nothing of the sort. Shostakovich – it seems – was too affected by the bloody cost of war to produce the victorious anthem that the Soviet authorities expected. Instead, the Eighth is a great tragic statement about suffering – one critic compared its emotionally shattering music to Picasso’s Guernica. Yet, despite being written almost three-quarters of a century ago, the music continues to ring out as the voice of an individual sensibility speaking for the millions whose lives have been devastated by totalitarianism, militarism, and cruelty, whatever their sources. The theme is as topical today as it was in 1943.

This recording, conducted by one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians, Mstislav Rostropovich, was rapturously received by critics when it was originally released in 2005. The Daily Telegraph picked it as one of its ‘Classical CDs of the Year’, and wrote of it: “this must surely be the benchmark for this shattering work”. BBC Radio 3’s CD Review was similarly effusive: “this performance is one of the finest I have ever heard of anything. Compared to others this is a recording that has all the difference between looking at a photo of Antarctica and actually walking out on the icepacks.” New high-resolution files have recently been derived from the original DSD masters, with the recording retaining the impact it had back when it was first released.

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