Gergiev conducts Kirov Orchestra, Marinsky Theater, St. Petersburg –
Philips MultiChannel SACD 475 6190 64:12 (Distrib.
Among the more neglected of the Shostakovich fifteen symphonies, the
Fourth in C Minor (1936), a massively mounted orchestral structure–two
large, outer movements framing a shorter scherzo–seems to be “about the
modern conflict between organism and mechanism, the collision between
mindless, bureaucratic conformity and the desire for individual integrity.”
Though Fritz Stiedry rehearsed the symphony for its premier in 1936,
Shostakovich withdrew the work for political reasons, having already
alienated the politicos and Stlain with his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
When the symphony was reconstructed from a two-piano score for Kirill
Kondrashin (30 December 1961), its explosive, neo-Mahlerian angst and
ironies made a sensation. The scale of the piece, its six sections that
modulate from convulsive violence to quiet, minor-key acceptance,
testifies to a huge, color spectrum that embraces marches, popular dances
and moments of deep contemplation. The occasional, volcanic outbursts of
sound still manage to startle the unwary listener with the vehemence of
its expression, the composer‚s rage at the emotional distortions foisted
upon him and his kindred spirits by the perversities of politics.
Recorded 20-22 November 2001, with splendid engineering and mixing by
Philip Siney, the disc is an audiophile demo item, a virtual
compendium of color effects. The symphony calls for a huge orchestra, with
twenty woodwinds and seventeen brass instruments, its six sections seeming
to move in a rhapsodic, frenzied manner with no clear emotional object
other than the expression of rage and unleashed power. Conductor Gergiev
coaxes every kind of sound combination from his responsive Kirov
Orchestra, a virtuoso, live reading (although without audience reaction)
of epic grandeur. The colossal unruliness of the piece sounds like an
affront on the sensibilities, perhaps the very kind of musical guerrilla
theater that composers like George Antheil found attractive to their
taste. Musically audacious and confrontational, this music is not for the
emotionally squeamish. A high-power disc on every level.