Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Bavarian RSO/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 557 8242
How many more blazing interpretations is this deliberately unwieldy masterpiece going to receive? Only last month I welcomed Gergiev’s Philips recording as the best to date. Yet although that conductor’s very personal idiosyncrasies tend to defy comparison, Mariss Jansons’s lucid monster may be finer still by virtue of its even more vivid sound. Jansons has certainly sharpened up the teeth of the usually rather soft-grained Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra to combat this toughest ultimate of symphonic dragons; and though Shostakovich’s devastating anti-symphonic argument ends in his personal Siegfried’s defeat by the Fafner of the Soviet state, this performance speaks with eloquence and humanity when it can. Textures even at their most ferocious are clean and well balanced, strings shape their more singable lines very elegantly and the woodwind – spotlit by the recording, but not so as to sound unnatural – have bags of character (one can forgive the lurid E flat clarinet for piping the interval of a third rather than a fourth in mockery of the espressivo horn solo at 10:37 of track 1, though this might have been detected under studio circumstances).Inevitably, though, it’s the sound and the fury which resonate long after the listening is over: the frantic fast-motion fugue at the heart of the first movement is attacked with unbelievable fullness of tone as well as absolute precision and the Bavarian trumpeter rides the high wire above it all with supreme aplomb. As the last aftershocks fade into nothingness, the irregular heartbeats which Shostakovich has written into the score, and which throb so vividly in EMI’s stunning Bavarian Radio production, become the listener’s, too. David Nice