The sound could be hard-driven, in the style of the legendary Mravinsky who conducted the first performance, while being remarkably subtle.
Petrenko clearly has this music in his blood. No basking for him in the glowing reviews for the first issue (Symphony No 11) in his promised series of all fifteen Shostakovich symphonies for Naxos. He seems driven – a conductor with absolute confidence in his Liverpool musicians. The Eighth Symphony is being recorded in a fortnight. Written in 1943, two years after the sensational "Leningrad" Seventh, No 8 avoids heroic peroration. Instead, there's spiritless bewilderment, a kind of numbed whimsy and an emptiness of post- apocalyptic proportions.
From the opening threnody as the strings ground out their harrowing theme through the fourth movement. The equally eloquent woodwind created a petrified landscape in the fourth movement, flutter-tonguing flutes whirring cheerlessly. Brass blared, the percussion hammered home its point and, woodwind screeched. Individual players brought vivid character to each of their solos: languishing cor anglais, haunting cello, punchy trumpet and eerie bassoon. If anything could sum up the excellent integrated, ensemble quality of the RLPO, it was the way in which solo lines emerged effortlessly and perfectly pitched, only to glide seamlessly back into the orchestral tapestry.
After Schubert's jovial Rosamunde Overture, Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer, as advertised, would have given the concert a different dimension. As it was we heard the Adagio from Mahler's Tenth Symphony instead.
What the performance lacked in the last degree of lucidity of sound and certainty of line it made up for in the way the players tore into what has been described as "the most horror-struck moment in musical history" but – wrong time, wrong place – the piece paled in comparison with the Shostakovich that followed.