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Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, the one he was obliged to withdraw during rehearsal in 1936 and waited another 25 years to hear, is the most difficult of his 15 symphonies to understand, and also the most daring. It marked a crossroads in his development: themes and structure are strung out like work in progress, rather than shaped, elaborated and integrated like a “normal” symphony.

That is why we so rarely hear it – and yet you also sense the composer working out the strand of allusive language that was to distinguish so much of his subsequent oeuvre. This studio recording by Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra of St Petersburg makes as strong a case for the music’s unwieldy sprawl as you will hear today, not least in the fugal stampede of the first movement (Kondrashin’s classic account with the Moscow Philharmonic and Haitink with the Concertgebouw are also worth hearing).

It is coupled with live performances of the popular Fifth and quirky Sixth Symphonies that are no less “instinctive” in timbre, conviction and enigmatic power. Gergiev’s ongoing Shostakovich cycle should, on this reckoning, end up among the greats – an impression sharpened by listening to Elder’s Manchester recording of the Seventh Symphony, precisely played by the Hallé but lacking the intensity of recent versions by the St Petersburgers and Vasily Petrenko’s Liverpudlians.

Shostakovich

Symphonies 4, 5, 6

Valery Gergiev

(Mariinsky) 2 CDs

Shostakovich

Symphony No 7

Mark Elder

(Hallé)

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