Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar)

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar)
PERFORMER: Gidon Saks (bass); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
CATALOGUE NO: AV2096
Sometimes Shostakovich’s symphony of Yevtushenko poems about anti-semitism and other forms of persecution can seem like five impressionistically-linked set pieces. Not so here: Gerard Schwarz, whose atmospheric interpretation of a sixth Yevtushenko setting, The Execution of Stepan Razin, has already appeared on Naxos, threads it all patiently together with unerring balance between present grief, violent flashbacks and the final possibility of grace poised between satiric reflections on ‘A Career’.

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The work’s scherzo, ‘Humour’, seems more intermezzo-like than usual, racketing along at high speed without the heavier irony we usually hear, and while there have been Soviet performances more blatant in the hard-hitting brass of the climaxes, string-playing is superbly nuanced in the many laments, staving off any potential monotony. There are equally carefully-phrased solos from the Liverpool tuba and first horn as the stranded monsters of ‘Fear’; the interpretation abounds in such perceptive detail, unobtrusively highlighted by the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall recording.

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The crucial bass role is taken by Gidon Saks, a powerful presence bringing the meaning and the strung-out emotion painfully to life. As the great Adagio of ‘In the Store’ unwinds its patient narrative, his resonant, keening upper range underlines the protest that is shortly to erupt in praise of enduring Russian womanhood. It’s a pity the men’s voices of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir are so underpowered, mere saplings compared to the hearts of Russian oak on Rudolf Barshai’s benchmark bargain; but in no other respect can this Liverpool performance be said to pale. David Nice