Shostakovich: Symphony No 4 in C minor, Op 43

Reviewed on Fri 13 Dec, 2013

The place of this controversial symphony in Shostakovich's life is well-known; it was withdrawn from performance by the composer in 1936, following press criticism of his music ordered by Stalin, and only resurfaced well after the dictator's death (although a fascinating transcription for two pianos appeared in 1946). A complex, large-scale work, its frequently expressionist style owes much to the influence of Mahler (extensively studied in Russia during the 1930s). This performance is nothing short of revelatory; an amazing achievement for a regional British orchestra. The playing, particularly by the strings, is of chamber-like precision (listen to the white-hot fugue midway through the first movement), and Petrenko evokes febrile, often terrifyingly incandescent textures from his untiring players. Neeme Järvi’s insightful Chandos recording with the RSNO has been my benchmark for years (despite a brisker tempo in the desolate coda, he has more to say here than Petrenko), but this release sets a challenging standard of excellence.
–Chris Achenbach