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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
23
Shostakovich: Symphony No.4 [Vasily Petrenko] [Naxos: 8.573188]
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 29 December 2015
There are 2 interpreters of Shostakovich's 4th symphony. One is Vladimir Ashkenazy, the other Vasily Petrenko. Both are Russian - born; perhaps this explains their incredible interpretations and understanding of the works of "fidgeting" Dmitry.
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on 8 July 2014
A very fine performance that competes well with the Gergiev release.
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on 11 March 2015
very good recording
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on 2 December 2015
Hot stuff
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on 5 September 2014
Another fine version from Petrenko and the Liverpool Phil.
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on 11 May 2014
I've been pretty much obsessed with this symphony for a good long while now, and over the years seem to have collected virtually every recording there's been. For this review, I'll pass over the work's extraordinary history, and proceed straight to my comments on this particular version.

Naxos' whole new cycle is a laudable project, but, while it's finely played and decently enough recorded, this particular release is ultimately scuppered by Petrenko's interpretation: while it's true to the letter of the score, it pretty much stops at that: there's very little looking to what's beyond - its spirit, if you like. Others find so very much more to this fantastic (in both senses of the word) work than he is able to reveal here. I'm aware, of course, that it is a bargain issue, but that really shouldn't justify selling the piece short (admittedly, there are full-price versions which fall at the same fence). On its own terms it passes muster, but in comparison to the considerable competition (often to be found as cheaply as discs in complete sets) this recording is ultimately rather anaemic and grey, with its extremes of emotion and volume somewhat underplayed.

In the best of hands, a performance of this symphony can be a kaleidoscopic switchback of vivid emotions and images, apparently as inconsequential as a dream (or perhaps, even more accurately, nightmare), even though a certain structural logic survives. Here we have the structural logic but without much of the emotional overlay, so, sadly, the listener is denied one half of the story and thus the full, harrowing, impact it should possess. To be fair, several other conductors have recorded the symphony more than once, so perhaps Petrenko may find something more to say after further acquaintance.

Where to go for better? Any of the three Kondrashin versions, first and foremost, though the only bargain one is in mono. As a complete set bargain set? Barshai. Modern versions as single discs? Either Raiskin on Avi-music or Caetani on an Arts SACD, neither a big name, but both streets ahead of the recent celebrity competition both for interpretation and recording.

I've thought long and hard about my star rating, which I'm aware is rather lower than that of some others, but, in comparison to what else is available, 'It's okay' (with a '...but' possibly implied) seems about right.

Note: I've removed my opinion regarding the timpani duet which precede the big peroration of he third movement, and which occasioned a discussion in the comments section below since further comparison between this and other recordings and the score have led me to change my mind regarding how the composer's rather sparse instructions should be interpreted: after all, it's not the only final movement in the cannon which has opposing schools of thought concerning tempo - the composer's son Maxim's first recording of Fifth changed the game completely, but not all conductors since have followed his lead.

I should perhaps also point out that unlike some composers who include in their scores directions concerning the emotional colouring of a movement or section thereof, Shostakovich's score for the Fourth gives no external hints whatsoever: it's left to the conductor to find them within the notes,
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VINE VOICEon 5 October 2013
This was recorded immediately after the live performance at the Philharmonic Hall on February 7th this year. Like the recent 'Leningrad' symphony release, it captures much of the atmosphere of the concert performance itself.

As usual, Naxos has provided detailed analytical, as well as background, notes, so it is only necessary to mention some highlights in this version. First, the very clear recording, bringing out Petrenko's attention to detail in the many sections where Shostakovich thins down his orchestration to chamber music proportions and allows gentler instruments such as the orchestral harps to stand out. Secondly, some outstanding contributions from section leaders: the first bassoon and trombones were the stars of the show in the live performance for their solos in the finale's quasi-scherzo section, and much of which of this is conveyed here. Thirdly, the Phil's upper strings, which meet the challenge of that physically demanding fugato in the first movement (5'15") and come out with flying colours.

Petrenko's interpretation of this massive work catches much of its kaleidoscopic nature, seemingly formless and ever changing, but in reality highly integrated and the work of a composer who knows exactly where he is going. The last eight minutes of the score, from what the CD notes rightly terms the 'granitic chorale' on brass, through to the chilly intensity of the final pages with their celesta chimes leaving the listener looking out into the abyss are memorably delivered here.

While not displacing older classic interpretations (e.g. Previn and Rozhdestvensky) this Naxos release has the advantage of superior sound, and clarity that enables one to admire Shostakovich's skill as orchestrator as well as composer.

Naxos has very speedily released this CD and collectors following this cycle will hope for a similarly quick release of the final works, the 14th; and the 13th (performed last week at the Phil).

PS 10th December 2014: this CD has picked up several excellent reviews and just missed an Gramophone Orchestral award by a whisker.
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on 30 September 2013
This is a wonderful recording of Shostakovich's 4th symphony and it captures, in full-bodied clarity, superlative orchestral playing of a mighty score. Bravo! indeed to all concerned.
Every one of the many, shifting moods of this symphony are captured and characterised, the brutal (how wonderfully hammered and shrieked out in the opening), the lyrical and the mysterious. So many details of this complex score are brought out as if the work were brand new. I have listened to many recordings of this symphony, many of them extremely fine, and this one stands out in every way. There are so many characterful and beautifully played solos (bass clarinet, trombone...) and the famous frantic fugal passage for the strings in the first movement is terrifying. I am in awe of the the whole cycle so far (only 13 and 14 to go) and all at bargain prices: they would be worth collecting at full price.
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on 1 October 2013
I can only agree with my fellow reviewer that this is an outstanding cd of perhaps, Shostakovich's most under-rated symphony, in which he pays homage to his hero, Gustav Mahler. This performance brings out all the grotesqueness of this amazing score, starting with the no-holds barred beginning that morphs into the crazy fugue for strings. There is a whistle stop at the toy shop obligato which leads to the carpet-chewing, decibel screaming finale. This performance can only further the cause of a symphony whose time has, finally, arrived. The Jarvi version of the 80's was something to behold but this version MAY just slightly eclipse it. (Although the SNO chewed at this work like a crazed dog with a bone).

Make sure the street is free of neighbours, pre-warn the Police and noise abatement society, check your house insurance and then crank up the volume. Just dont be surprised if Van Halen fans complain about the volume!!!

A wacky review? Well, it's just that sort of piece!
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on 22 November 2013
Petrenko’s Shostakovich symphonic cycle with the RLPO has been much lauded to date and I’ve certainly enjoyed a number of the series with a few being outstanding. Some of the symphonies have been less well served than others in Petrenko’s approach but it’s fair to say that the RLPO have sounded outstanding throughout, thanks in part to his efforts and the excellent sound engineering from Naxos. The musicians themselves, of course deserve great credit.

Once again the playing here is wonderful and the level of detail picked out is quite extraordinary at times. So regardless of how the conductor interprets the piece this was always going to sound great. The series as a whole has been pretty good but has had a tendency to emphasise shape, detail and architecture at the expense of the more visceral, expressive and theatrical moments: this was always likely to be an issue with the remarkable Fourth where the form of the opening movement plays hide and seek with sonata form and the finale is a complex web of vignettes. It is Mahlerian indeed but reflects the age of cinema; a moving montage with many effects intended to be theatrical and unnerving.

The result is that Petrenko takes rather a staccato approach to the opening movement and manages to make the more aggressive passages seem surprisingly lightweight. The shrill opening doesn’t grab the throat in the way that Daniel Raiskin’s excellent version does or the conductors who were close to the composer, like Barshai and Kondrashin. It’s as if Petrenko wants to continue the glib, slightly facetious Shostakovich of the Second and Third symphonies in this opening movement.

The central rondo is played at a deliberate pace but this is less of an issue than it is the finale which, even when the allegro begins, continues to be leaden footed. The light but slightly sinister vignettes, that appear later in the movement sound harshly etched and heavy handed – they fail to dance as lightly as they should. The grand final climax is dragged out though it is effective. The tempo of the desolate conclusion feeds from this climax, which may make architectural sense but loses its dramatic effect where contrasting the array of dramatic set pieces is a the core of the work’s form.

Rudolf Barshai conducted a wonderful version of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony which gained its power largely through the rigour of his interpretation – avoiding melodrama by following Mahler’s formal arguments. He takes a very different view of the Shostakovich, recognising it as the radical and expressively terrifying and unnerving work that it is. So here was a rigorous classicist reading the work in a very different way to Petrenko.

We are not short of truly excellent versions of this great symphony now but Petrenko’s is not one of them. The stunning recording and playing still make this a version well worth getting to know even if it falls short of Petrenko’s best work in the cycle. It may not be the best around but this still sounds like the great symphony that it is.
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