It was apparently the intention of conductor Mark Wigglesworth, faithfully and enthusiastically executed by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, to make this the tamest Shostakovich Fourth Symphony ever recorded. The first movement's opening gesture, which usually sounds like a combination dental drill and factory whistle, is refined and hardly abrasive, and the Mahlerian march that follows, which often sounds like the acme of brutish belligerence, is more restrained than aggressive. The entire performance is not similarly reserved, though. The opening movement's bludgeoning climax still screams like a buzz saw, and the closing movement's battering climax still pounds like a sledge hammer. In Wigglesworth's account, however, these shattering moments are just moments, and do not permeate the entire hour-long symphony.
Some listeners may be relieved that all the demons of hell are not unleashed here, as they are in Kondrashin's classic premiere recording. Others may be disappointed not to have to endure torments that approximate those of the damned. Wigglesworth's reading is musically and dramatically coherent; the music's threat of violence is always present, and the English conductor knows how to build to and draw back from a climax for maximum effect. The orchestra can manifestly play the holy heck out of this tremendously difficult work. Nothing from the most outré woodwind solo through the most demanding string writing to the most exhausting brass part is beyond them, and they seem to relish the challenge. In spite of the transparent super audio sound, this may not be the best first choice for a performance of Shostakovich's Fourth. Though it has antique sound, Kondrashin's overwhelmingly passionate premiere performance is now and will probably always be the first choice. Listeners who know the work well, though, may find this version fascinating.