Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4; Britten: Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes"

André Previn

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Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4; Britten: Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes" Review

by James Leonard

There was a time when it seemed that every other record featured the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And why not? During its years under Georg Solti, the Orchestra was at the peak of its post-Reiner career with a warm string section, a characterful wind section, a brilliant brass section, and an ensemble that sounded like a 747 taking off. Recorded in 1977, this EMI recording of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony with André Previn is a perfect example of the CSO performing at full throttle. From start to finish and from top to bottom, the playing is stupendous. One could point to 1,000 individual felicities -- the searing violins tearing into the opening Allegretto's main theme, the bottomless solo tuba at the beginning of the same movement's development, the cheeky bassoon taking the first tune of the closing Largo, or the crashing percussion at the same movement's climax -- but it's the ensemble playing that's most astonishing of all. Listen to the infallible strings in the Allegretto's headlong pseudo-fugue, or the effortless tempo rubato in the central slinky Moderato, or the impeccable wind playing in the recklessly bitter finale. It's true that Previn's conducting is masterful and that his understanding of the score is complete, but it's also true that Previn's conducting is just as masterful in the coupling of Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes recorded in 1974 with the London Symphony, and that even the super virtuosic LSO can't hold a candle to the supernova CSO. While there are certainly other recordings of Shostakovich's Fourth one should hear first -- the shattering world-premiere recording by Kiril Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic from 1962 naturally takes precedence -- this recording surely deserves to be heard by anyone who likes the piece, the composer, the conductor, and the orchestra in particular.

EMI's stereo recordings -- clean, clear, colorful, and very, very vivid -- are as good as any recordings ever made by anyone anytime anywhere.

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