Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar)
PERFORMER: Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass); Netherlands Radio Choir & PO/Mark Wigglesworth
You can tell much about a conductor’s devotion to Shostakovich’s most outspoken protest-symphony from the opening bars. Here, in the middle distance of a recording rich on perspectives (both in its super-audio and standard formats), woodwind and muted brass proclaim a smooth, stalking objectivity. Wigglesworth immediately extends his spacious authority, in a cycle which so far deserves respect and admiration, to his Dutch soloist and chorus.


Jan-Hendrik Rootering, a thoughtful Hans Sachs in Wigglesworth’s Covent Garden run of Die Meistersinger, lives the sentiments, even if he may not grasp every detail of the language (‘Ya kazhdy zdes rastrelenny starik’ – ‘I am every old man shot here’, for instance, is broken up very oddly). He goes farther than any bass I’ve heard, stalwart Alexashkin included, in introspective warmth of phrasing at the heart of the Symphony, a heartbreaking setting of poet Yevtushenko’s salute to the enduring women of Soviet Russia. That quality, along with the veiled orchestral lines and the discreet percussion taps, only make the climax at the words ‘it is shameful to short-change them! It is sinful to short-weight them!’ the more overwhelming. As with the Symphony’s other tidal-wave crescendos, the professional weight of Simon Halsey’s Netherlands Radio Choir basses brings burnished focus to savage indignation, eased only by tender Netherlands Philharmonic soloists in the final balm of grace. The performance may not quite have the searing authenticity in every bar evinced by Barshai’s Cologne Babi Yar – Wigglesworth, I’m sure, would be the first to bow before those who lived through the events so baldly evoked – but it’s a noble effort all the same. David Nice