Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor (Babi Yar); Yevtushenko: Babi Yar; The Loss (recitations)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor (Babi Yar); Yevtushenko: Babi Yar; The Loss (recitations)
PERFORMER: Sergei Leiferkus (bass), Yevgeny Yevtushenko (reciter) Men of the New York Choral Artists, New York Philharmonic/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90848-2 DDD
‘If I had been able to write music, this is exactly the music I would have written for this poem’; these are the words of the poet Yevtushenko recalling how Shostakovich set his Babi Yar. A bonus on this disc is the poet himself reciting his work at a live concert, before Masur and the NYPO perform the symphony. The disc concludes with Yevtushenko giving the premiere of his poem The Loss.

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Babi Yar is a ravine in which the Nazis perpetrated a foul massacre against the Jews. The poem was written in the supposed cultural thaw of the early Sixties, but official disapproval disrupted the first performance in 1962. Despite enforced textual changes not a note of music was altered, so the raw attack on Soviet ideology was perpetuated in the composer’s bitter mood. Babi Yar is a symphonic cantata, though the poems form a perfect symphonic cycle. There is vicious brutality at the start, gallows humour in the Allegretto, a lament for peasant women, fear of the dawn knock by the KGB in the Largo, but a serene finale. All this is powerfully conveyed by Masur, Leiferkus, the unison male chorus and the gripping playing of the NYPO. Christopher Fifield