Shostakovich: Symphony No 4, review

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Vasily Petrenko ensures the proportions and sometimes wild discourse of this symphony are held in perspective, says Geoffrey Norris.

The chequered performance history of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony has lent it a mystique over and above all the interpretations of what his message – whether public or private – might have been in the other 14 symphonies. Viewing the score with the benefit of many decades’ hindsight, its gigantic proportions, stridency and uncompromising language would probably not have gone down too well with Soviet officialdom in the wake of the condemnation, via a Pravda editorial, of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in January 1936. But reports that Shostakovich himself was unhappy with rehearsals for the planned premiere in December that year cannot be discounted. Whatever the reason for his withdrawing the symphony, its rehabilitation in 1961 revealed a score of startling originality, for all its nods to Mahler, and one that has become part of the regular Shostakovich canon.

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