Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: WDR Symphony Orchestra/Semyon Bychkov
Painfully drawn-out string tremolos and woodwind shrieks at the start of Bychkov’s Shostakovich Four promise an even bigger, more lumbering beast than usual for the composer’s most outlandish first movement. So it proves, with Bychkov prepared to make the movement’s many high-volume turns of the screw as weighty as they can be without sacrificing the clarity of the counterpoint. In between, Cologne strings give fragile humanity a chance with very careful phrasing of those lyric meanderings which can sooften sound as desiccated and aimless as anything in the movement. Detailed dynamics also make the most of the shadowy scherzo, with spooky presence for the percussion whirrings and clickings at the end, and the string of popular dances into which the finale so startlingly lapses: the waltz sounds genuinely seductive, no mere parody, and the bassoonist humanises his jaunty galop.


In fact the many exposed solos are characterfully taken throughout, with outstanding contributions from cor anglais, solo violin and harps. But one sometimes feels that Bychkov can’t quite persuade his sophisticated West German players to lash out collectively in the whirlwinds of the outer movements – the chaotic fugue of the first, the central stomp of the finale – where Jansons on EMI takes his Bavarians that little bit closer to the edge. Horns and trumpets here are good, sometimes not fullthroated enough. West German Radio production values are as high here as they were on Barshai’s vividly engineered Shostakovich cycle (Brilliant), with the added advantage of the Super-Audio CD format. David Nice