Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Profil Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Staatskapelle Dresden/Kyrill Kondrashin
CATALOGUE NO: PH 06023
Kondrashin conducted the 1961 premiere of Shostakovich’s most outlandish symphonic masterpiece, 25 years after the composer had wisely withdrawn the score in the midst of the state-imposed Terror of the 1930s. By 1963 the Khrushchev thaw was over, but Kondrashin insisted on the still-ruined city of Dresden for the first German performance of the Fourth. His Melodiya version with the Moscow Philharmonic, even closer in time to the Soviet unveiling, has been in and out of circulation, but this mono recording, made in the Dresden State Theatre auditorium three days before the live performance, goes further.

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Acid woodwind and sandblasting brass sound like Russian work; trombone and trumpet solos, throwing careful intonation to the winds, achieve even more rasping emphasis than their Moscow counterparts in the 1962 recording. Unique, though, are the staggering dynamic range, focus and atmosphere of the Dresden Staatskapelle’s string playing. Kondrashin, like Mravinsky, was famous for his intensive pianissimos and the gradations of his crescendos and this is perhaps the finest testament to them, especially in the twilight zones of the imploding first movement, the shadow-world of the finale’s off-kilter ballet divertissement and the tragic snuffing-out of the relentless C minor coda. Despite some tape pre-echo in what should be crucial silences, the mono sound respects Kondrashin’s highlighting of crucial thematic threads and baulks little at massive climaxes. If you want state-of-the-art engineering and more finely-tuned terror, try another meeting between a Russian-trained musician and a German orchestra prepared to scream and shout, Mariss Jansons’s recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on EMI. David Nice