This disc, very well recorded in 1989, presents a very convincing reading of this often problematical symphony. At the time it was written this was undoubtedly the most searching of Shostakovich's symphonies to date. What it was searching for was the problem as it soon fell foul of the Soviet authorities and Shostakovich withdrew it during the rehearsal stage and, as is well known, followed this work with the very contrasted fifth which was described as in response to just criticism. Thereafter Shostakovich's musical output was a cat and mouse game between himself and the censors who had power of life and death over those whom they didn't like.
This is a long symphony in three movements that each contain many contrasted sections. It therefore needs long-term vision and a firm grip on these disparate constructional considerations if it is to meld into a satisfactory whole. If that is achieved the symphony is transformed from being a difficult work in danger of fragmentation into a powerful musical statement and one of his finest symphonies. One inevitably wonders what he would have written thereafter if the authorities had not been such an intervening pressure upon him.
Jarvi, in this reading, clearly shows that he is able to control all these elements and not lose sight of the long goal. This is one of his most impressive achievements in what has proved to be a generally impressive series. The other stand-out discs in the series are those of the symphonies 1/6, 5, 9 and 10. The playing of the orchestra could be reasonably described as inspired with biting brass and woodwind, incisive percussion. The strings have not the sheer weight of tone of the RLPO in the recent Petrenko version but the slightly wiry nature of their sound suits the searing vision of Jarvi very well and the ears soon get used to them.
There are now 5 versions of this work in my collection and each has its individual vision. Jansons' is the most rounded but with weight, Gergiev the weightiest with nervy edge, Petrenko the slowest and broadest but with lots of bite, Barshai the most direct but not the quickest and now Jarvi providing the quickest and most searing. (His last movement is a full 4 minutes quicker than Petrenko, the slowest, for example).
This disc therefore joins the elite of recordings of the fourth symphony.
I would therefore suggest that, even in a more competitive choice market as it now is, this earlier version still has lots to say and says it very well. Well worth serious consideration as a purchase therefore.
Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:
I have to respectfully differ on this. I bought this but didn't keep it; I thought the recording was a grainy-sounding early digital effort, and the performance, compared to someone like Chung on DGG, seemed rather plodding. Sorry to use such dispiriting adjectives, but that was my view. (U.S. review)
I have some sympathy with you over the sound that initially sounds rather thin on string tone - not the Philadelphia for example, but I found my ears quickly adjusted. Jarvi's speeds and timings are generally the quickest by some real margin whereas Petrenko is the slowest, also by some real margin. Plodding is therefore a surprising description to me. Pace has obviously has the effect of altering the way the drama is achieved and I have used searing but others may find it lightweight although Jarvi has plenty of supporters despite thinner string tone. . I personally find Barshai one of the most convincing at present.
I don't know the Chung version, but reading the reviews, he seems universally praised in the States but not so much in the UK. If I can find a reasonably priced offer I will buy one and add my views of the Chung recording to the others.
Thanks for your input, Ian Giles.
I agree with your observations and find Jarvi's interpretation magnificent. The sound is powerful with majestic brass/winds. (UK review - see comments section for very detailed observations)
I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)
I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)
I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Keep up the good work!
Thank you (UK review)