Thrilling, Thrilling Shostakovich 4th

This past weekend the Cleveland Orchestra performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s mighty Symphony No. 4 on their subscription concerts. (The program began with an admirable performance by Truls Mörk of Robert Schumann’s quite deadly boring Cello Concerto.) The real money here was on Shostakovich, which requires an enormous orchestra, including four flutes, plus two piccolos, about twelve horns, two harps, a large battery of percussion. I confess not to being a fan of Shostakovich’s music, so I was not expecting to like this piece. Vladimir Fedoseyev was the guest conductor.

This was written in during the midst of Stalin’s reign of terror in the mid-1930s, and the symphony is unrelentingly grim. Even the more “light” and lyrical moments are full of sadness. It also takes the composer a long time to say what he has to say: the first movement alone is a half hour in duration. But unlike Bruckner, this was never dull or padded with “filler.” It was the most concise half hour movement I have ever heard.

The third movement was simply thrilling in its climaxes. (One can only imagine the decibels endured by the members of the orchestra; I hope they had ear protection.) But after was appeared was going to be the end of the work, in glorious C Major, there was an extended coda which got softer and softer until it just faded away with the sound of the double basses and individual notes on the celesta.

There are far too many standing ovations at Severance Hall, but this one was richly deserved.