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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 – 1975)
Symphony No. 4 in C minor Op. 43 (1936)
Kirov Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre, St. PetersburgValerie Gergiev.
rec. live 20-22 Nov 2001, Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia. DDD
PHILIPS SACD 4756190 [64:14]

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Gergiev’s on-going Shostakovich cycle gets better and better. On this disc we have the enigmatic Fourth Symphony, removed from performance at its potential premiere, as a result of anti-Shostakovich activity by the Soviet authorities. This resulted in a slight change of direction for the composer, resulting in the Fifth Symphony and an easier journey for the composer. Shostakovich was advised by his colleagues and friends that the symphony needed urgent changes to make it more palatable, and rather than take them up on these suggestions, he put the symphony in a drawer and did not release it until 1961. When it finally saw the light of day, it was totally unchanged, with Shostakovich standing by his original thoughts.

The symphony was premiered by Kyrill Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic in 1961, this performance has long been available on Melodiya on 74321 19840-2, and this disc is well worth acquiring, without being seen as an alternative to the Gergiev.

We are fortunate in having a selection of modern performances of this symphony – Mariss Jansons having just also recorded this work with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on EMI. When comparisons are made, the Kondrashin performance has the novelty and excitement of a first performance, and in common with this conductor, somewhat faster than is the case nowadays. He takes 60 minutes compared with 64 minutes for both the Gergiev and Jansons. Bernard Haitink, another excellent guide to this repertoire is even slower at 68 minutes, and in all of these performances, speed is not the qualifying characteristic. It is more the commitment of the orchestral playing, given the white hot inspiration of the composer’s early symphonic thought. All of these performances display this commitment clearly, and I would be happy with any of them.

Gergiev’s performance has been a while reaching us, having been in the can for three years. Jansons on the other hand has been an almost immediate release, having been recorded in November 2004, EMI presumably hoping to cash in on their conductor’s very positive recent exposure at two superlative Proms last summer (2004), plus the very favourable reviews of his initial work in Amsterdam with Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Gergiev need not fear any of the foregoing competition, as his performance is superb, and anyone collecting his series – Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9 having already been released. One wonders if No. 8, released before SACD came on the scene will be re-released in this format. If Philips continue with this series, it could well be the first in SACD format. Large-scale orchestral works such as the Shostakovich symphonies lend themselves well to the surround sound system, and I can imagine that listeners who have invested in SACD will be well pleased with this release.

The playing and commitment of the Kirov Orchestra for their hardworking leader cannot be faulted and each section of the orchestra performs superbly well whether shining as soloists or immersed in a collective body. One of the factors which have really drawn me to this disc is how certain orchestral inner strands are clarified by the double benefit of immaculate balancing on behalf of the conductor, and the ability of the recording to pick this out and display it in a way that some passages may well be revelatory for some listeners.

A notable addition to the on-going Shostakovich cycle from Gergiev and his colleagues, aided and abetted by the recording.

John Phillips


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