SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 4 Op. 43

by | Dec 28, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 4 Op. 43 – two versions

1) Beethoven Orchestra, Bonn/Roman Kofman – MDG Gold multichannel SACD (with 2+2+2 option) 937 1208-6, 65:08 **** [Distr. by Koch]:

2) Orchestra Sinfonica de Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Oleg Caetani – Arts Music multichannel SACD 47703-8, 68:08 (incl. fragment of unpublished Adagio mov’t)  **** [Distr. by Albany]:

Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony came just after his first denunciation by the Soviet authorities, following the premiere of his opera Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk.  Rehearsals of the new symphony were halted due to the political climate and it quickly became one of the composer’s “desk drawer” serious works which were not heard until years later.

Shostakovich is often credited with continuing the symphonic style of Mahler, and the Fourth is regarded as his most Mahleresque. It is available on a surprising number of SACD versions. The work abounds in great contrasts – plays of light and shade – with the darker passages often approaching the grotesque. His harmonies are extremely astringent and there are similar ironic/satirical passages as heard in Mahler’s symphonies. The center movement of the three-movement work is only nine minutes length, vs. over 25 minutes for the other two movements. It is a scherzo portraying a symphonic tragedy, and leads into a funeral march which opens the finale.  That movement steers a course into the deepest sorrow. The composer considered the work programmatic, but it is only in a general sense that it transmutes into music the “bloodshed, terror and gnashing of teeth” which pervaded the mid-30s in Europe when the work was composed.

The Italian SACD performance includes the only existing portion of an unpublished Adagio movement which Shostakovich had considered including in the Fourth. Running only about five minutes, it sounds almost too Mahleresque, and seems to answer the question of why it was deleted from the symphony. The Arts version is also a live recording, whereas the MDG appears not to be. The MDG is listed as Vol. 8 in that label’s complete Shostakovich Symphonies project.  Both of these orchestras had to add players to their normal complement since the Fourth uses very large orchestral forces – though in some passages a very chamber music instrumentation is heard.  Making a choice between the two discs is a difficult one; both are excellent performances, although I find Valery Gergiev’s Philips SACD a more passionate performance.  I hear just a slight bit more “air” and spatial clarity on the MDG effort, which also allows enhanced 2+2+2 playback if you want to go to the trouble of setting up the additional frontal speakers. Its note booklet is also printed in more readable type than the Arts booklet. But you couldn’t go wrong with either version.

[The MDG disc is one of their many “2+2+2” releases mostly on SACD. They feel that for music in surround the center and subwoofer channels are not important, and instead use those two channels for left and right height mics/speakers high above the front left and right speakers. The signals are compatible in standard 5.1 playback.  We will shortly be featuring some feature review articles covering the 2+2+2 system and most of the discs using this alternative approach – which works well but takes some effort to set up…Ed.]

 – John Sunier

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