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Reviews: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4 - Gergiev

Reviews: 5

Site review by Castor December 20, 2004
Performance:   Sonics:  
The text for this review has been moved to the new site. You can read it here:

Review by beardawgs January 14, 2005 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Have to admit, I never cared much about the 4th. So far the only recording we had is with Haitink, and this one is superior in every respect. My main problem with this symphony is lack of distinctive thematic development and sketchiness of motifs in the first movement, but Gergiev overview puts everything into its place. He is conducting the episodes as they come, doesn’t look back and plays for the moment. He takes no prisoners – as brutal and merciless as much as Shostakovich is (and I finally understood why this music would come as an ideological offence). For survivors, Gergiev has a full bag of witty tricks in a finely shaped scherzo and a massive dynamic build up of the largo. Later on, the orchestra is in a full swing, as if they are let out loose, while the conductor doesn’t miss a single shade of Shostakovich’s irony and cynicism. The rest is what we all know so very well from later Shostakovich – Mahlerian triumph of […] over […] (fill in the blanks as you deem fit), all very uplifting and admirably executed.

I still don’t admire this symphony more than before, but at least in this performance is a great fun and pure enjoyment – a bit like childish excitement of a great day out at Legoland.

The recording is a bit dry and rough around the edges, but I find that in tune with the conductor’s vision. What bothers me more are too discreet back channels, especially during many of the louder passages, where the sound image is still quite constricted and not as transparent as it could be.

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Review by mwagner1962 May 24, 2005 (4 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is my final SACD with Phillips/Gergiev/Kirov....after their dismal recording effort with "Scheherazade" with Gergiev and Kirov (that went back to the store) I figured I would never buy another combo like this.

Well, I did it again...the old "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" is true...I have never heard a more muffled, strange, no hall, no sparkle, no warmth recording like this SACD. This was my 138th (and worst) SACD purchase, and this is going back as well.

I will first comment on the performance, which is stunning. I love the drive, the energy, the aplomb, and usual demonic energy that Gergiev gets from his orchestras. He shows his supreme mastery of all music from his homeland. This is where the glowing comments end.

This SACD is undoubtedly the worst sounding SACD I have bought to date. The artificial echo that the Phillips team got (and made me return the Scheherazade SACD for) for the Rimksy-Korsakov is gone here (thankfully). Stunningly, we have just the opposite here...there is no hall, no ambiance, nothing. The orchestra is too closely miked (as if the engineering team was afraid of a repeat of the Rimsky-Korsakov), and sounds more like a terrible redbook DG recording and NOT a Phillips. I cannot understand what Phillips (a label I have loved for well over 20 years) is trying to do with this ensemble/conductor/composer. Is it because it is a PCM recording??? Even Decca's PCM recordings are better than this, as Decca and Phillips shares the same recording "team".

I have listened to this SACD on two different systems (with extreme pricing separating the two systems) and it just flat sounds bad. I cannot believe that Phillips could do worse here than they did on the Scheherazade SACD. The Vienna/Tchaikovsky are stunning....the same cannot be said for these Gergiev/Kirov recordings.

I am very saddened that this totally stunning performance was marred by such a terrible SACD recording. If this is the best that Phillips can do with Gergiev in the Mariinksy, then Gergiev needs to follow Ivan Fischer's lead and look for a better label. My 20 year + love affair with Phillips is heading for divorce court.

My $.02

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Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Valery Gergiev continues with his cycle of Shostakovich's "War Symphonies," a concept that he stretches to include Symphonies No. 4 through 9. The idea of a new, even if truncated, DSCH cycle from a Russian conductor and outfit is an exciting one, given the allure that the Mravinsky cycle (Melodiya) still holds and the technical polish that the Kirov has achieved under the often fiery Gergiev. Certainly this—especially if ever completed—would be a rival to the Western Bernhard Haitink traversal and the "East-West hybrid" that is Rudolf Barshai's survey? With four of six planned symphonies under his belt, the verdict is not quite in. [Now he's finished and the answer is: Nah... not really.]

His recording of Symphony No. 7 was widely considered a minor effort, but his recording of Nos. 5 and 9 (an ingenious coupling of DSCH's most accessible and enjoyably wild symphonies) I thought was quite excellent. No. 5 is bombastic, much like André Previn's famous recording (RCA), but sharper and better recorded. It does not have the refinement of Haitink (London) or the clarity of Barshai (in a very different, transparent version on Brilliant) but could well go near the top of anyone's list. No. 9 is even better with Gergiev perfectly capturing the wistful character. The whole symphony becomes a dancing feast of music; not the only way to play this music, but the most fun I've heard so far.

Now Symphony No. 4 is out, and I was initially taken by it. If this most Mahlerian of Shostakovich's symphonies (just listen to the opening of the 2nd movement to hear Mahler with a Russian accent) is not as difficult to grasp as the disjointed structure and independent, parallel elements would suggest, it is because of its wild, riveting, sometimes abrasively glorious assault on our senses.

The momentum Gergiev builds over the course of the third (and last) movement is near irresistible. Alas, it also points to what, under closer examination, becomes one of its flaws: Gergiev is off to an awfully slow start. You have to stick with him for at least the first movement's 25 minutes to know that the ride will be worth the price of admission. Compare to that Barshai's first movement (at 27 minutes a bit slower) and it will only underscore that impression. Barshai (who knew DSCH personally and had worked with him) gets his West German Radio Symphony Orchestra worked up from the start, like a twitching race-horse out of the stalls. Barshai enters into the first movement headlong; Gergiev, cautious.

The playing of the Kirov, meanwhile, is everything we have come to expect of them. Precise, but not entirely at the cost of the Russian sound: that lingering of chaos just beneath the surface of cohesion. The second movement, too, seems dormant, but then, three minutes into the largo of the 3rd movement, the whole work, very broadly, picks up momentum, shifts like a stone giant awoken, and even the lyrical passages cannot thwart the ensuing energy. It's subtle, less forward than the blazing Barshai, fostered by the softer, rounder sound of the Philips recording. (That sound is more of a distraction in the earlier movements where the xylophones, especially, could be a bit more "bony" for a greater, harsh effect. The whole thing appears a little muffled at all times. Sadly the SACD layer of this disc brings no particular improvement over the Red Book CD sound... you can hear Gergiev turn the pages, though, if you listen closely!)

Imperceptibly, Gergiev builds up this force in the Allegro of the finale and rides it home with great fanfare (literally). While better than many other recordings, I hesitate to make it my top recommendation. [Note: That is reserved for the FANTASTIC Jansons/BRSO recording (not available on SACD) that was released a few months after this disc. Jansons combines the best qualities of Gergiev and Barshai into one and has the best playing from his orchestra, to boot.] But given that Barshai is only available as part of the (admittedly ridiculously cheap and consistently wonderful) complete set on Brilliant, it will be worth to acquire Gergiev's Fourth which is, next to his entertaining 5/9 coupling, perhaps his best DSCH in the set of "War Symphonies".

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Review by willemvoorneveld June 16, 2012 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
The SACD at hand is a somewhat older release with Gergiev in Shos 4. There are many releases of Shostakovich symphonies but not too many feature on SA-CD. This CD stems from the early days of SACD releases and I think at the time Philips was not fully clear yet on how surround recordings should evolve; Anyway first the artistic notes:

Gergiev has been praised many times for his Shostakovich recordings but overtime it starts to bore me. The fourth is a complicated symphony and if not in good hands it can easily become a collection of movements that go nowhere. And that is exactly what happens in this performance. Gergiev and his Kirov orchestra play brilliantly and every opportunity to excel is taken, but at the same time or may be due to this he loses sight of the overall architecture and makes for a tiring listening experience. Since the release of the 4th symphony under Mariss Jansons and his Bayerisches orchestra in 2004 (EMI) I have a hard time listening to any other performance. Jansons seem to understand the fourth and keeps the attention till the end. Unfortunately Jansons is not available on SACD. Another good option was Gennadij Roshdestwenskij with his USSR Ministry of state…..etc orchestra, stemming from the early Digital days in the 80’s. Back to Gergiev and his over brilliant performance: Still if you like Russian wood players (they are fantastic) and lots of Base drum there is lot to love on this recording, but there is too much Gergiev gallery play and not enough Shostakovich content.

The recording:
The recording is uncharacteristic for the nowadays SACD recordings; The 24/48 PCM recording seems made for the DVD video world since it provides a lot of energy in the .1 channel. The overall sound quality is good but not as refined as current SACD recordings (DSD or High end PCM). I had a hard time to trim the low end but once I had the Bas level down to normal proportions the overall sound quality was good. I do not know the recording location so it’s hard to say whether the sound is realistic or not.

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