Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6190
As usual, there isn’t a dead bar or an under-articulated phrase in Gergiev’s latest Shostakovich recording – all the more amazing as the composer’s wildest symphony constantly tries to trick us into believing its heart is frozen. Gergiev deals with the baggy monster very much on his own terms, starting with clean, Classical lines followed by shapely, very vocal strings. Once the ground begins to give way beneath the players’ feet, individual Kirov players are encouraged to sing and dance purposefully as they walk the tightrope over the abyss. All deserve a mention, from the first horn, cor anglais and harp who carry the torch through the wastelands of the first movement to the violin solo and bassoonist who reluctantly give up the ghost in its final bars (very slow, very haunting). The orchestra’s collective cries and screams don’t always have quite the impact of the otherwise more erratic live LSO/Rostropovich release (reviewed October 2004); Rostropovich’s Barbican sound team stands back to pan across the devastation while the difficult Mariinsky Theatre acoustics result in a closer, more shallow recorded sound here (at least on standard, rather than SACD, equipment). Yet the dynamic range is impressive and Gergiev pulls off his own idiosyncrasies to awesome effect: horrifyingly protracted brass growls at the height of the first movement’s biggest holocaust, and an unsurpassable fade from brutal victory-parade to nothingness at the end of the Symphony as the lights go out one by one. Few conductors on disc muzzle this extraordinary work’s impact, but Gergiev, in masterly control of both symphonic logic and theatrical drama, is surely the finest so far. David Nice

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