SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43
WDR Sinfonie-Orchester Koln/Semyon Bychkov, cond.
AVIE SACD AV2114 TT: 64:21

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43. Adagio.
Milan Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orch/Oleg Caetani, cond.
ARTS SACD 47703 TT: 68:08

MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25. Capriccio brillante in B minor, Op. 22. Rondo brillante in E flat, Op. 29. Serenata e Allegro giojosa in B, Op. 43.
Andrea Bacchetti, pianist-conductor/Prague Chamber Orch.
ARTS SACD 47595 TT: 63:56

Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4, written in 1936, was highly problematic for the composer. His opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsenck had just been condemmed by Stalin, and Shostakovich was denounced by Pravda for wriring "chaos rather than music." During this period, Shostakovich was completing his fourth symphony, a dark bizzare work that includes sardonic marches, ethereal percussion, and a funeral march, vast expanses of bleak despair—and some of the composer's most cacaphonous writing. Few listeners would list this among their favored symphonies by this composer, and for good reason. Although Shostakovich came back into favor in 1937 with his fifth symphony, Symphony No. 4 wasn't premiered until 1961 when Kiril Kondrashin conducted it with the Moscow Philharmonic. Now we have two SACD issues. Oleg Caetani's version, part of his complete cycle for Arts with the Giuseppe Verdi Orchestra, is marked by wide-range audiophile sound which reveals the rather thin sound of the orchestra. They are taxed by virtuoso string writing at the beginning of the first movement's Fugato (15:08), whereas the WDR orchestra is superb at this point (16:00). However, the Arts recording has a definite plus, inclusion of a brief (5:37) fragment of an unpublished movement supposedly for the Symphony No. 4, not played until February 1998 when Mistislav Rostropovich conducted it with the LSO. It's no major contribution to the Shostakakovich discography, but intriguing to hear. Bychkov's recording has been superbly recorded, with particularly vivid timpani and close-up resonant brass. Don't miss Kondrashin's incandescent performance of Symphony No. 4 with the Concertgebouw, included in their latest Anthology (REVIEW).

Andrea Bacchetti is both pianist and conductor on this new Mendelssohn SACD, recorded during a concert February 14, 2004 in Sala Verdi del Conservatorio di Milano. Bacchetti has impressive credentials and is considered to be one of the leading interpreters of music of Luciano Berio. However, on this Mendelssohn disk performances are rather tentative, and there are no fireworks. Orchestral playing is sometimes rough, and the close-up miking produces a dry sound. This compilation is no competition whatever for Stephen Hough's Hyperion disc that also includes the Piano Concerto No. 2—not a SACD issue, but beautifully recorded.

R.E.B. (March 2007)