5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
It seems appropriate that this most Russian of symphonies should get a top-notch recording with an orchestra from its place of origin and the top Russian conductor working today, recorded in the same city as its namesake.
The Marinsky were in Gramophone's top 20 orchestras in the world and Gergiev has to be the most exciting conductor of Russian origin, at the peak of his powers now. This hybrid SACD includes multi-channel 5.0 and stereo mixes with DSD. The dynamic range is incredibly wide - at the start of the "Invasion" theme in the 1st movement, the ppp is almost inaudible and of course, moves to a huge climax, inexorably.
With all this going for it then, this should be an obvious choice for a primary recommendation; but there is still something about this I can't quite put my finger on and the huge complexity of this symphony allows for many varying interpretations.
Gergiev has apparently gone for very slow tempi and takes over 82 minutes, where other recent versions have been around 75 minutes. He seems to want to emphasise the tragedy in the symphony and no doubt this is very real and still keenly felt by Russians. As the extensive liner notes mention - this is "the voice of a shared history and the supreme musical symbol of the 1940s, a decade which wreaked devastation in every family and household.."
When listening, I didn't find the slowness of the tempo to be an problem, but it does feel like Gergiev is wringing every ounce of emotion he can from the sadder parts of the piece and the two slower movements are very highly wrought - at times you can even hear the conductor's vocalisations as he urges the orchestra on. The climaxes of the outer movements are captured faithfully and the huge sound of the Marinsky is impressive - but what stays longer as an abiding impression is the sadness that pervades this work and the slow and anguished string playing is particularly notable.
The last movement does in fact take off at a very fast tempo and builds in excitement. In fact this is almost like a long novel where you have to get through a lot before being rewarded with a pacy conclusion. I'm still not sure which is the best version of this symphony, but there is certainly a lot of emotional honesty from Gergiev and the Marinsky. A deeply felt performance that comes to a satisfying conclusion.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 13 April 2013
I'll keep this short. This is very good performance/interpretation but I'm afraid as with many Gergiev performances it falls short of being great. If you want to really feel the power of this work you should stick to the classic Bernstein, Chicago recording or even better get blown away by the new Andris Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra - destined to become the bench mark.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2013
Although I have been an ardent Shostite since first hearing the opening lines of the Symphony no.4 when a teenager in the early 60s, I must admit that I have had a hard time stomaching the Leningrad. It has really tested my loyalty and Toscanini's later renunciation and Bartok's ridicule of it in his Concerto for Orchestra have given me a hard time. I have given sympathetic hearing to various renderings of it without coming to terms with it. That bolero cover version with Lehar's 'Da geh ich zu Maxim' theme could make my toes curl. Was that the coming of war? Doesn't sound so to me. However, Shosti was there, I wasn't (but then again the author of War and Peace was born years after the Napoleonic wars) After hearing Gergiev, though, I am finally converted. He knows that there are more strings than violins and it gives depth. This is a full bodied orchestra! It has certain operatic qualities, as well. Very strange. As if there are human voices and stories hidden in the work which he brings out. So it doesn't matter that he is so slow at times (although the thumb of rule for long symphonies is not to brood). Gergiev feels close to this work (made authentic by his humming through parts of it!), and it is about time that the Russian orchestras play some Shostakovitsh.