The Fourth is the stuff of legend. In 1936, Dimitri Shostakovich’s music had been denounced in Pravda (allegedly at the behest of Stalin). Shostakovich composed “an artist’s creative response to just criticism” Fifth symphony, and let the Fourth go ‘missing’ until 1961.
Shostakovich used a traditional sonata form, but heavily obscured it from the listener. It can sound like a musical maelstrom unless you work at it. It’s also a big symphony for a big orchestra; Shostakovich specified a 100-piece orchestra, and a well-established Philharmonic like the Royal Liverpool is ideal.
Naxos is on a roll with Vasily Petrenko’s Shostakovich symphony cycle. All are very well recorded, and all are conducted and played with suitable energy, sensibility and gusto. Especially gusto – the Fourth here leaves you dizzy and breathless. It’s easy to use the Mahler influence as a kind of escape route, giving the piece an un-called for polish, but Petrenko and the RLPO don’t take the easy way out. This is harsh, angular music played intensely. This is perhaps slightly overplayed at first (it’s so frantic, you aren’t sure whether to listen, or duck), but the overall balance is perfect.