WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in C minor
PERFORMER: National SO/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-76261-2 DDD
This symphony has had a troubled history. Written in 1936 when Shostakovich was enjoying massive popular (and official) acclaim for his opera, Lady Macbeth, it was withdrawn by the composer on the eve of its scheduled premiere, in the light of an abrupt about-turn in his fortunes. The work was not heard until 1961, 25 years later.
The importance of this work is greater than its lack of popularity would suggest. Rostropovich’s account is brutal and unforgiving. But then this is a brutal and unforgiving symphony. One commentator has suggested that the final climax in the last movement is perhaps the loudest music ever written. But particularly in the last two movements there are snatches of Mahlerian humour, and these Rostropovich illuminates competently. He does not, however, exploit their full potential to undermine the crushing bombast which permeates the rest of the work.
The recording is unfortunately two-dimensional: if (as it should be) this is a gargantuan orchestra we get little idea of its size. But as a point of reference (it is a difficult piece to enjoy), this disc is quite satisfactory. Christopher Lambton