Mikhail Pletnev / Russian National Orchestra

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 10

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Mikhail Pletnev's slow cycle of the Shostakovich symphonies continues on the Dutch audiophile label Pentatone, doing superb work here in Moscow's Philharmonia 2 (aka Rachmaninov Hall). In the first and third movements of the Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43 (sample either, around the midpoints), where giant perorations of brass come to nothing, the brasses of the Russian National Orchestra (a private enterprise, despite its name) are showcased gloriously. The Symphony No. 4 was withdrawn by Shostakovich after he ran afoul of Stalin's government in the 1930s, and indeed, in Pletnev's slow, almost excruciating reading, it is easy to imagine Stalin absolutely detesting this work. The music suggests a Mahler who has witnessed some of the 20th century's horrors, and its giant first movement, more than 33 minutes long in Pletnev's reading, is one of the few in the literature that is both radical and gigantic: experiments tend to be worked out on a smaller scale. Pletnev revels in its length; his reading comes in much longer than most others (the nearly 75-minute performance is almost ten minutes longer than that of Mariss Jansons with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to name a contemporaneous competitor). And he never gets lost in the waves of sound: his reading doesn't seem longer, for the lines are always logically laid out. The more conservative Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93, is perhaps a bit less distinctive but also contains brilliant orchestral work and lots of detail well-placed into an overall plan. An important recording of the Shostakovich Fourth, and a fine addition to Pletnev's cycle.

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