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Review: Shostakovich's Eighth, CBSO at Symphony Hall

Just days after a blistering account of Berlioz by the CBSO, comes an equally compelling performance of Shostakovich's wartime symphony.

Birmingham Symphony Hall

The CBSO is in a rich vein of form at the moment. Just days after a blistering account of Berlioz comes an equally compelling performance of Shostakovich's wartime symphony.

It begins like his popular fifth, but what follows is a darker, more complex and ambiguous musical journey. Cristian Măcelaru drew some impressively trenchant playing from the string sections in their constantly shifting alliances during the first movement's titanic musical skirmishes.

Its moment of repose, a plangent cor anglais solo beautifully played by Rachael Pankhurst, is as important here as the corresponding one in Dvorak's ninth symphony, although Shostakovich's will never be used to sell Hovis.

Each of the three march movements which follow were individually characterized, their grotesque and parodic elements uninhibitedly played, from the high shrieking piccolo down to the harrumphing bass trombone and tuba.

The symphony ends not with a bang or a whimper but in quietly subdued hope as life seeps back after the numbed fourth movement. The players under Măcelaru succeeded in making it express the sentiment Shostakovich claimed it did – “beauty will triumph.”

Beautiful too was Liadov's delightful miniature Kikimora, an elvish scherzo of Mendelssohnian grace and wit but with a distinctly Russian accent, which opened the concert.

Hearing Akiko Suwanai play Mendelssohn's E minor Violin Concerto made one realize that this wonderful work's virtues are often taken for granted – the skilfully contrived transitions and the precise balance between lyricism and dynamism.

Suwani's lithe playing, refulgent tone and impeccable taste ensured that those qualities received their due.

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