Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
This is one of those rare Symphonies, like Mahler’s Seventh, which has rarely had a less than committed performance on CD, possibly because the stakes are too high and the selective orchestral writing too exposed to let any laziness pass muster. Since Vasily Petrenko and the Liverpudlians haven’t disappointed in any instalment of their Shostakovich cycle so far, the chances were they would excel here. And they do. A special coup at the start is the high-frequency shock: don’t play at too high a level or you may jump of your seat as folk do at the factory whistle of the quote from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
Shostakovich’s Fourth inhabits a similarly grotesque world full of dancing on the abyss. Petrenko drives weird sounds to appropriate extremes: the xylophone rattle and glissando strings in the finale’s bizarre circus music are unforgettable. Full marks to E flat clarinet, nuanced violin solo, trombone and tuba. The many wild climaxes are exceptionally vivid, above all the frantic string fugue at the heart of the first movement. Engineer Mike Hatch brings those strings fully to the front, slightly at the expense of distant clicking percussion in the scherzo, but the rest of the orchestra can fend for itself. I wonder afresh at the minimal means with which Shostakovich ekes out the final C minor death watch after the blinding ‘victory’ stamp. Its ever-shocking punctuations and its fade to nothing are superbly well done here. Not the sort of music to encourage loud applause, then, but in the long term it’s bravissimo all round.