Tuned In: Shostakovich Symphony No 4

Thursday 29 April 2010 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Johnson  presenter

Shostakovich: Introduction to Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, with live orchestral examples 45′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4 60′

Shostakovich’s massive Fourth Symphony is a devastating portrait of the most turbulent years in 20th-century history. In this concert with a difference, broadcaster Stephen Johnson explains the many stories behind this extraordinary work, and shows how Shostakovich uses his huge orchestra to such unforgettable effect – with live illustrations from Andris Nelsons and the 110-piece CBSO! Then there’s a chance to hear the whole symphony. Whether you know and love the Fourth – or you’re new to Shostakovich – this concert will help you hear it with new ears. www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:


…”It was gripping for every second from the opening’s thunderous mechanical rhythms to its magical close, with the celeste crooning the musical monster into a growling sleep. Nelsons, aided by terrific playing from every department, ensured that the middle movement’s ghostly waltz, Tchaikovsky’s shade making an appearance, was eerily effective.” …

Review by Neil Fisher, Times:


…”What impressed was how fervently he stamped his authority on this scrambled score, drawing sharp and sinuous playing in a spine-tingling combination of moment-by-moment intensity and a canny sense for where the symphony’s guiding pulse points lie. The sprawling third movement in particular was guided by an energising momentum that almost fooled you into thinking that its twisted threads might resolve into something heroic and affirmative. In the end, the ticking shrug that signals a fade-out came as the most gruesome and chilling of wake-up calls.” …

Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb International:


…”Johnson conveyed his enthusiasm for the work throughout. After the orchestra had played the opening bars of the first movement, he pronounced ‘What a way to begin a symphony!’ Hear! Hear! ” ….

…”Andris Nelsons’ punishing schedule resulted in his late arrival, but hotfoot from the airport he was there to take up the baton for the performance proper. Showing little sign of fatigue, he exuded his customary energy upon his one hundred and ten strong orchestra. The opening chords of the first movement Allegretto were crisp and exhilarating. The twists and turns of the two sonata-form elements and their development can sometimes result in a disjointed whole, but here they were seamlessly fused together by Nelsons and a CBSO on top form. ” …

Review by Christopher Thomas, MusicWeb International, (second opinion):


…”With Nelsons on the podium the spell that the young Latvian has over the orchestra was immediately striking, the rapt attention of the players palpable throughout as the almost maniacal cackling of the brass and the shrieking of the woodwind carried an intensity that was only topped by the fugue in the strings, played at a jaw dropping tempo that conveyed a terrifying sense of desperation, a telling sign of the composer’s state of mind at the time of the work’s composition.”

…”Utterly desolate, utterly heart rending and yet as Stephen Johnson so aptly pointed out also utterly magnificent, the closing bars of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony are as powerful a statement as anything in the Russian symphonic literature. Could this be the last word in musical ambiguity and paradox? On the evidence of this performance at least, there are few who would be likely to argue. “…

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