Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphonies Nos. 4 & 11 “The Year 1905”
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelson, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
After the release of two albums devoted to Anton Bruckner’s fourth and seventh symphonies, conductor Andris Nelson adds one more instalment to his recordings of Shostakovich’s symphonies. As in the four, previously released albums, Nelson recorded the present one with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In two different concerts, which took place in September and October 2017 and in March and April 2018, Nelson and his orchestra recorded two symphonies which belong to different stages of Shostakovich’s career but that are linked together by the same key.
The first work, the monumental Symphony No. 4 in G minor, dates to the early years of Shostakovich’s career, but it premiered only twenty-five years later because of the dissent against its pessimism and bitterness. On the contrary, the Symphony No. 11 in G minor (labelled “The Year1905”) had a warm reception. It premiered at the Conservatory Hall in Moscow in 1957. It embodied the Soviet spirit in its representation of the gory events which took place in St Petersburg during the Revolution of 1905 and particularly of the infamous massacre of the Bloody Sunday and of the glorification of the victims. After the premiere of this work, Shostakovich earned the Lenin Prize in 1958.
Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 4 & 11: the Performance
Symphony No. 4
Listening to these two works one after another leads primarily to a consideration of their diversity. Symphony No. 4, with its many twists and turns and its abrupt sounds receives a sharp reading on Nelson’s part. Its five movements are a continuous, inexhaustible sequence of vehement fits and outbursts. Biting sarcasm and pessimism always reappear next to just some few, quiet passages. The longest of them is the finale, where the sound of the celesta promises a reconciliation which is superbly stressed by the softness of the orchestra. Nelson solves the intricate changing moods with consummate skill and his clear vision is always perceptible.
Symphony No. 11
The Symphony No. 11, on the contrary, seems more consistent. Though it does not lack several powerful passages (especially in the second movement, describing the tragic events of The Ninth of January), on the whole its seems that the conductor is representing here a broader picture. Here the sequence of events is easier to follow, as in the remarkably well performed first movement (The Palace Square), where the blending of orchestral colours describes with vividness the cold, still day of January in the capital of the Russian Empire, suggesting a certain sense of expectation for something ominous. Also the third movement (Eternal Memory) is quite spectacular, especially for the lyricism deriving from the strings.
Final Considerations on the Performance
After differences, however, there is also room for similarity. This is provided by Nelson’s amazing conduction and by the superlative playing of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Nelson accustomed us to intelligent, profound readings of the works he performs and this recording is no exception. Both symphonies are perfectly chiselled and every colour and shade has its precise meaning in the right context. The conduction is brisk, but it also takes its time. Listen for example to the Presto from the Symphony No. 4, to its dizzy beginning, to its tormenting passages in the middle and then to the multi-faceted and multi-coloured final part to have an idea of this microcosm.
An Excellent Recorded Sound
Finally, the recorded sound is excellent. The brilliance of the orchestral colours is wonderfully preserved. Though both works are live recorded, the only hint you have that they have been performed in a concert hall is merely in the energy and communicativeness of the works themselves.