Symphony No. 13 ‘Babi Yar’
Oleg Tsibulko (bass); Russian National Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
Pentatone PTC 5186 618 58:13 mins
Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony is one of those fiercely intense works that seems to communicate its messages even more urgently under concert conditions. Nevertheless, this beautifully engineered studio recording under Kirill Karabits has all the necessary adrenaline to keep the listener fully engaged. Karabits is particularly effective in negotiating the tricky changes of tempo in the opening ‘Babi Yar’ movement and ensures that the tension is sustained right to the very end in the emotionally shattering climax of the closing bars. Bass Oleg Tsibulko and the Russian National Orchestra are certainly put through their paces in the ensuing movement ‘Humour’ which is taken at a manically fast tempo that seems entirely appropriate to the menacing subtext of Yevtushenko’s poem.
Thereafter, the grim realities of daily life in Stalinist Russia (‘In the Store’ and ‘Fears’) are depicted with stoic dignity. Finally in ‘A Career’, there is a palpable hint of optimism, the quietly reflective strings and celesta bringing the symphony to a poignant conclusion. In the last resort, perhaps, this performance doesn’t quite grab you by the throat in the manner of the recent live Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording under Riccardo Muti, but the new release certainly benefits from fine singing of Tisbulko and the more authentic vocal timbres of the combined Russian choirs.