Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4

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Valery Gergiev holds the opening movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 together by sheer willpower. Since the gargantuan movement sprawls like a drunken giant, lurching from pseudo-exposition through inchoate development and faux-recapitulation and amorphous coda, nothing else but willpower could possibly do it. And, amazingly enough, it works. With the tremendously muscular playing of the Kirov Orchestra, Gergiev makes chaos cohere and even convince, if not quite compel. After the opening movement, Shostakovich's Fourth does hold together and hold together brilliantly. The central movement is as tight and hard as a blackjack and the closing movement, although even larger and longer than the opening, has a dramatic logic as rigorous and severe as a machine gun. But Gergiev's will power never relaxes and his closing movement is not only coherent and convincing, it is immensely compelling. Indeed, taken altogether, Gergiev and the Kirov's Fourth is surely the most compelling recording of the work to come out of Russia since Kiril Kondrashin's premiere recording from the '60s. No higher praise is possible. Philips' sound has the impact and immediacy of a sledgehammer.

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