Shostakovich/Britten: Symphony No. 4 in C minor; Russian Funeral

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich/Britten
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in C minor; Russian Funeral
Denon has cleverly juxtaposed Shostakovich’s first and last symphonies on this disc, the works spanning almost a half-century. The electric First (shades of Mahler, Stravinsky, 1920s French music and Tchaikovsky) gave a kick-start (along with enlightened encouragement from Glazunov) to the career of one of this century’s greatest symphonists. The Fifteenth, written in the shadow of death with quotes from Rossini to Wagner, travels emotionally from light-heartedness, through the funeral gloom of the Adagio and biting Scherzo, to the acceptance of mortality. Inbal’s Vienna Symphony do a splendid job (fine wind solos, brooding brass chorales) despite occasional blemishes among the violins. No such problems in Rattle’s brilliant account of the Fourth, an hour-long epic of Mahlerian proportions written at the height of Stalin’s Terror in 1935/6 and withdrawn in fear before it could be performed. Shostakovich’s typically wide range of stylistic colour and character within his symphonies is nowhere more evident than in this cataclysmic work. The acoustical properties of Birmingham’s magnificent Symphony Hall and Rattle’s evident commitment make this a gripping disc.


Jansons too is a Shostakovich devotee, and here is a superb account of the Tenth, which began the emancipation of the composer’s music after Stalin’s death in 1953. Coupled with it is a brooding account (Robert Lloyd idiomatically dark voiced) of Shostakovich’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s songs, whilst Rattle pairs No. 4 with the beautifully played Britten rarity for brass and percussion. Christopher Fifield