Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Myung-Whun Chung, Philadelphia Orchestra. DG 447 759-2.

Ten minutes into Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony I remembered why the Soviet government, that is, Stalin and his censors, weren't too keen on the composer's music and why, completed in 1936, it didn't see its first public performance until 1961. "Chaos instead of music" is how the government characterized such works. But it didn't take much more than those first few minutes to revalidate the symphony's worth, its strength, and its oddly immediate accessibility. It is one of Shostakovich's biggest and most frenetic compositions, to be sure, but it has a grand dignity and refinement about it despite its seeming turmoil, especially in the hands of Maestro Myung-Whun Chung.

Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) divided the Fourth Symphony's five movements into two enormous opening and closing sections filled with endless eruptions of loud rhythms and sensations, book ending three inner movements of relative solitude and repose. I've read that Shostakovich revered Mahler, and in the Fourth his homage to the older composer is more than evident. The symphony's size for one thing, over an hour; the juxtaposition of flaming outbursts and beauteous tranquility another; the waltz-like interior themes and the parodic, sardonic phrases, and you get the idea. It all adds up to a work in which Shostakovich repeats nothing, yet everything seems to spring naturally in variation from everything else.

Myung-Whun Chung
Best of all, the conductor, Myung-Whun Chung, appears both at ease in the music and able to communicate its diverse temperaments with almost casual simplicity, with the Philadelphia Orchestra playing splendidly. This may not be Shostakovich's most popular piece of music--the Fifth, the Eighth, and the Tenth Symphonies probably take that honor--but for me it deserves a place in every classical library and a listen by every music lover of every persuasion.

DG's sound is almost as imposing as the score. However, like the Symphony itself, the recording had to wait to see daylight. The folks at DG recorded the album in 1994 and waited eight years before releasing it. I have no idea why; its sound is a nifty bit of engineering. The Philadelphia Orchestra has always been rather a tricky outfit to record; the CBS (now Sony) and EMI recordings in Philadelphia often sounded hard, edgy, or overly bright. DG have recorded the orchestra somewhat closely, and the sonics are still a tad on the hard, forward side; still, overall, the disc is wonderfully clear, clean, and dynamic, with a deep bass that sets off the composer's more momentous occasions with undoubted authority. At the time of this writing, I was more than willing to put it on my list of ten best classical recordings of the year.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


1 comment:

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa