Snidely put, Gianandrea Noseda only conducts Italian and Russian works. (He’s musically and linguistically fluent in Russian after having lived and worked in St. Petersburg for years.) It’s a pretty limited repertoire, but one that he often does well. And when he does it well (like Shostakovich’s Words of Michelangelo Suite or Casella), he does it very well, indeed. Another case in point is this recording of Shostakovich’s Eighth with the London Symphony Orchestra. For starters, this greatly improves on the orchestra’s 2004 recording on the same label with Rostropovich (“a dull 68 minutes of music”). It offers a more natural flow in the first movement, better-judged dynamics, and a subtly and increasingly gripping dramatic arch.
The result is good, perhaps surprisingly good; certainly up there with first-class accounts like those of Slatkin, Berglund, Wigglesworth, and Caetani. What it hasn’t got is the teeth-first attack and bite of Rozhdestvensky, but then who does? What it’s got is a much more natural balance than Rozhdestvensky, but then, who doesn’t? The tempos are average for the opening movement and a bit on the slow side for the rest, but the numbers say awfully little by themselves in this symphony: Excellence can be achieved by the fastest (Caetani) and the slowest (Wigglesworth, Kitajenko, Maxim Shostakovich) alike, with almost 20 minutes difference between them. Noseda succeeds in his own middle-of-the-road way right down the center. It’s not a Shostakovich of extremes, but the play between patience and tension—never more important than in this symphony—is adroitly executed and the sound is good for a Barbican release. Makes you look forward to their Fourth that is coming out soon.