Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 is a very long piece. A musical landscape of truly Russian proportions, peopled with creatures of a fertile and creative but undisciplined mind, it more than filled the second half of the National Symphony's Kennedy Center concert last night.
In composing it, Shostakovich acted as if there were no tomorrow, and indeed, for a while in 1936 when it was written, it looked like there might not be one for him. But, of course, it turned out that he had lots of tomorrows and 11 more symphonies to boot.
Nevertheless, it was into this work that he poured enough material for half a dozen full-length pieces, tied together with persistent rhythmic obligatos. Furious climaxes, frantic fugues and all sorts of clever orchestral devices tumble all over each other in this behemoth. The effect is, at once bewildering and exhilarating.
Kiril Kondrashin, late of the Moscow Philharmonic and now of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, was on the podium to whip the National Symphony into splendid paroxysms of excitement. This work is a specialty of Kondrashin's and he managed to maintain order in what is not a very orderly piece with rather modest-looking gestures.
The orchestra seemed to have a good time and sounded first-rate.
Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kizheh" Suite, the first half warm-up, was not played with nearly the same degree of precision. Attacks and even some pitches wandered all over the place in passages where they could not be excused as stylistic devices.