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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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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 11 October 2013
I think most readers will know about the troubled birth of this symphony, Shostakovich's music falling out of favour with the Soviet authorities with the "Chaos Instead of Music" article publishedin Pravda, the Soviet government controlled newspaper. Whilst the work that had so upset the authorities was his opera Lady Macbeth, it was made clear that to continue with the similarly inspired Fourth Symphony was to invite severe consequences, not just for the composer but also to all those who were to take part in performing it and so Shostakovich withdrew this magnificent symphony from performance during rehearsals for its premiere, no less. More trouble followed, since the was score entrusted to the conductor of its aborted premiere, Fritz Stiedry, who then lost it during the dark days of the Second World War, requiring it to be reconstructed from the orchestral parts many years after. It finally receiving its premiere in 1961, the earliest Shostakovich felt he could get away having such "radical" music played in public. After such a tormented start to life, it is all the more remarkable how well this work has fared in recordings, with practically every Shostakovich conductor of note having put down their interpretation for posterity (notable exceptions being Mravinsky, [Kurt] Sanderling and Bernstein) with hardly a bad performance between them.

Vasily Petrenko and his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic are certainly the new kids on the block in the world of classical music, their recordings and performances (especially of Russian music) attracting much note and critical acclaim. Their recording of the Shostakovich Fourth has been eagerly awaited and rushed released in September this year, after live performances of it in February (2013). Petrenko's cycle has so far garnered near universal praise, the only weak spot being perhaps the sound which on some machines (but not all) can appear "tinny" and lacking in bass. From the very outset of this recording it is clear the conductor has some very definite ideas about this music - after those opening shrill fanfares, Petrenko really brings out the martial nature of the opening theme, each note very staccato. He goes on to pace the opening movement very well, but one does notice the slightly unusual sound picture - I tried this recording on several machines with varying results, but ultimately I felt as if I sitting in the front row of the stalls, with the strings and woodwind very much to the fore, but with the brass and percussion further back. So when that furious fugato begins in the middle of the First Movement, the strings are very much in your face - all very exciting, especially at the ferocity with which the RLPO attack it (you can practically smell the rosin and see the hairs on the bow breaking!), yet when the percussion joins the party shortly after this point, they lack impact compared to all other recordings due to sounding "further back". Yes, you do hear the violin glissandos straight after this climax clearer than on any other recording (testimony to the conductor's care over even the smallest details, realised by some very fine playing of his orchestra) plus a host of other minutia from the score , but only at the expense of a loss to some of the shock and awe that this symphony should really bring. Moving on, I found the central Moderato con moto is a bit more moderato than con moto than I would like at Petrenko's speed as well, with the consequence that it sounded a bit anonymous. The last movement is much better, the final peroration done rather more grandly than usual without grinding to a halt as it almost does in Salonen's hands, but the balance issues noted earlier remain, with the woodwind theme here very much to the fore - so much so it almost sounds lyrical, which really isn't what anybody wants. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good performance - it just isn't the world-beater everybody hoped it would be.

So which versions do I consider the finest ? Well, Shostakovich Mavens will still want Salonen's recording of the Symphony (Shostakovich: Prologue To 'Orango'; Symphony No.4 ), which although is less successful than Petrenko's, is coupled with the very interesting - and more enjoyable than you would think - Orango, Shostakovich's aborted opera on the half man/half ape figure of the title. Similarly, Rostropovich's live account on Andante (Rostropovich conducts Shostakovich ) comes coupled with precious and rarely performed discarded sketches from the Fourth Symphony, plus a performance of the main work, slow, grim and monolithic that brings out the crushing power of this symphony greater than any other. Similarly, Kiril Kondrashin and the Moscow PO (Shostakovich: Symphony No.4 ) , the performers of the eventual premiere in 1961, bring a fervour and intensity to the premiere recording of the work that hasn't been quite matched since, although one has to concede that the recorded sound isn't the greatest. However, the recordings to which I keep returning to are Barshai's, Rattle's and Jarvi's. Rattle's (Shostakovich: Symphony No.4/Britten: Russian Funeral ) is a superbly thought through and executed reading; I learn something new about the construction of the score every time I hear it and truly admire Rattle's achievement; but that's the point, I really only admire it, rather than feel it really means something, even if it is still unique and individual enough for me to want to keep it in my collection. Jarvi and the Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos (Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43 ) on the other hand sound positively possessed - Jarvi may not build up each climax with as much skill and subtlety as Rattle, but he captures the air of fear and desperation that must have gripped the Soviet Union at the time the symphony was written better than anyone. However, the performance which seems to capture both this desperation allied to a superbly thought-through reading, is Rudolf Barshai's (Shostakovich: Symphony No.4 ); if I could have only one performance in my collection, then it would have to be this one - and it's at bargain price too. Now please don't misunderstand me - Petrenko's is still a very fine performance, but in this company he loses half a star for his performance and Naxos lose another half for their slightly disappointing sound picture. At four stars out of five, it won't disgrace anyone's collection, it just isn't the great one we all hoped it would be.
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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 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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on 26 October 2013
Here's a new way to hear the fearsome, relentless Shostakovich Fourth, thanks to an inventive talent. Since he auspiciously began a Shostakovich symphony cycle for Naxos, Vasily Petrenko, now 37, has risen considerably in the world to be recognized, as he fully deserves to be, among the young luminaries of the podium. His bargain cycle parallels a much more high profile, high powered one by Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orch. (it is divided between older recordings on Philips and newer ones on the Mariinsky Theater house label). It's impossible to detract from Gergiev's authority in this music, and for me his Fourth Sym. set a new standard among modern recordings, even though it has been followed by a spectacular one from Salonen and the L.A. Phil., on DG.

Petrenko would seem to be at a disadvantage with a lesser - although very good - orchestra of non-Russians, but he has successfully erased any trace of English reticence from their playing, and his musicians adore him. What enables him to go head to head with Gergiev and Salonen is the kind of inventiveness that reveals the Fourth in a new light. You hear this in the stinging first bars, which are then not followed, as usual, by brutal Machine Age clanging. All but x-raying the score, Petrenko phrases the first movement's episodes (this is the most unpredictably episodic of all the Shostakovich symphonies, defying easy consistency) with quiet attentiveness. He doesn't bluster or exaggerate. This is testimony to the fact that he has assimilated the score and understands it from the inside.

As a result, I was more engrossed in a score that's so grueling - its assaultive quality has been minimized, and we are ushered into the symphony's quirky world more intimately than in more ambitious readings, if ambition means big effects and visceral impact. Someone might carp that I've put a positive spin on the absence here of dazzling virtuosity and seismic jolts, which are certainly more evident from Gergiev and Salonen, not to mention the stupendous Chicago Sym. under Haitink on the orchestra's house label. But in return, Petrenko is so alive and vibrant, which clears the dreary pall that hangs over Shostakovich's tragic/ironic idiom. Here we are reminded of the optimistic, wildly exuberant talent of the composer's youthful, experimental years.

In the episodes where the pace gets manic - the other side of Shostakovich's depressive manner - Petrenko approaches hysteria (listen 15 min. into the first movement), showing us the difference between heady excitement and merely pounding on our heads. Naxos's sound comes into its own then, with etched high frequencies and total transparency. The sound stage is also quite wide, the miking close up but not at the conductor's elbow. The highest tribute I can pay to this new recording is that in the face of so much abrasive, tormented, enigmatic music, Petrenko continually made me want to hear more.
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on 21 November 2013
As I'm sure a lot of people will know, Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO have been recording all the Shostakovich symphonies over a period of a few years now. What fewer people outside the Liverpool area might know is that this is not simply a recording project: all of the symphonies have received live performances (often more than once), and the recordings have as far as I know been made around the same time as the live performances (although they are not "live" in the sense of concert recordings).

In other words, a lot of work has gone into these interpretations and performances.

In this fantastic recording of the 4th Symphony, the best evidence of the thought and care that's been put in to this performance comes about half way through the first movement, in the frenetic and dizzying string fugue. I've never, ever heard such a clear and exciting recording of this passage before.

Of course, you may already know and love the earlier "Russian" recordings of Shostakovich 4- and yes, this sounds very different to Kondrashin or Mravisnky. It's pointless to debate what might be "authentic" or not: the fact is that this is a highly skilled and motivated orchestra, captured in perfect sound, playing the music to the very highest standards. I can only recommend that you buy it and listen to it - and hope that you enjoy it as much as I do,
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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 11 December 2014
I'm not an unconditional fan of the Petrenko cycle, but his Fourth blows me away: grips by the throat from the start (as this music is meant to do) and doesn't let go... The playing is astonishing. The quality of the recording, too. I know this symphony well, but I'm hearing details here that I've never heard before. I'd say it's a must for any admirer of Shosty 4.
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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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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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