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
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.
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.