The most interesting item of the DVD is an interview with Haitink. In it he remembers how he met Shostakovich in Russia. It was after a concert featuring Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9, and Haitink had the impression it had been the first time Shostakovich had heard the work. He was frail, Haitink says, and besides that not a man to express himself openly. He suffered from depression all his life, and rarely smiled. But he remembers that in his study were plaster effigies of Beethoven and Mahler. These were his masters, Haitink considers — composers who wrote from the heart. And this is what Shostakovich mostly does, he adds, and it’s consequently a pity he’s sometimes been associated in the West with factory routines and military triumphalism.
Haitink recalls that he wasn’t at first a fan of the Soviet composer. In Amsterdam in his early years his music was almost unknown, and when played usually despised. Mahler was the fashion, but when Haitink eventually conducted a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14 it was a considerable success, and he was invited by the record company Decca to record the entire Shostakovich symphonic cycle.
On the Symphony No. 4 Haitink expresses his belief that it’s a work in which a young man first discovers within himself his full potential. The 1st shows promise, but the 2nd and 3rd are too full of Soviet ideology for Haitink’s taste. The fourth, by contrast, impressed him enormously when he first encountered it, and he considers even the 5th as a reluctant return to a more popular manner. He ends by quoting Shostakovich as saying, when the symphony was eventually performed in 1961, that maybe it was better than some of the ones that succeeded it. This, as I’ve already made clear, is an opinion that it isn’t hard to disagree with.