This newest release from CSO Resound, the Chicago Symphony’s own record label, is a departure of sorts for them. The first few releases were truly excellent multichannel SACD discs that garnered a great deal of acclaim from the media. It then appeared that they abandoned SACD with the next few releases, and although it was definitely a disappointment that the discs were only Red Book CDs, the sound quality was still quite impressive. Now with this Shostakovich release, they’ve altered the mix again with a CD/DVD combo, and once again the results are pretty uniformly excellent. The accompanying DVD presents the CSO’s series “Beyond The Score,” which features CSO principals and actors who narrate a travelogue of sorts that gives an impressive amount of information and visuals to give the viewer a more thorough understanding of the composer and the music that’s presented on the CD.
The CSO and conductor Bernard Haitink have a real affinity for the music of Shostakovich, and they provide a truly thrilling and idiomatic performance of this much-overlooked masterpiece. The symphony was Shostakovich’s follow up to the opera “Lady MacBeth of Mtensk,” which had become his first real international success and propelled him to the spotlight, only to have his career very nearly crushed shortly thereafter by a biting front-page review of the work by Stalin in Pravda. Shostakovich was forced to regroup creatively and submitted the Fourth Symphony in an attempt to quiet the critics and guarantee his survival in Soviet Russia. The symphony was unperformed for 25 years following its completion, and only in the post-Stalin era was Shostakovich able to return to some semblance of a normal existence in his life and compositions.
The DVD disc that complements the excellent CD is no mere throw-in; some of these dual-disc sets are notorious for including substandard video sources with substandard sound quality, and this disc is definitely none of those. The image quality is really quite good, and is offered in an enhanced widescreen presentation. The lighting was a bit poor during some of the live performance segments, and therefore the contrast varies somewhat from time to time, but overall I found the video content more than acceptable. The audio content really shone, with a default Dolby Digital 5.1 track that was also superb. And the disc includes additional bonus material and interviews that give the viewer even more background into Shostakovich’s compositional process. I’m so used to these type offerings being bare-boned, with poor sound and video quality the norm, I just can’t express how much of a pleasure it was to experience this excellent package. Very highly recommended!
— Tom Gibbs