Shostakovich: Symphony No 13

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich: Symphony No 13
WORKS: Symphony No 13
PERFORMER: Alexander Vinogradov (bass); Huddersfield Choral Society; RLPO & Choir/Vasily Petrenko

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Choral shortcomings apart, this makes a fine epilogue to Vasily Petrenko’s magnificent Liverpool Shostakovich cycle. These early 1960s settings of blunt, angry poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko win laurels with the last three interconnected commentaries on Soviet life after Stalin. Equally haunting are wraith-like tuba and trilling ghost strings, and the clacking cans of the women ‘in the store’. But more wondrous still are the two flutes – later solo violin and viola – of grace in ‘A Career’. Petrenko’s flowing, infinitely sensitive way confirms a great, subtle symphonic finale. Could the pair be Shostakovich’s equivalent of Strauss’s larks in the Four Last Songs? Certainly they breathe transcendence around the bassoon-punctuated mundane in a fascinating interplay of vocal and purely instrumental.

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Alexander Vinogradov is the finest bass interpreter here since Sergey Alexashkin, with a lithe freshness all his own. He can lighten the voice to suggest Anne Frank’s spring dreams in the opening ‘Babi Yar’, less slablike than usual as it jumpcuts between the massacre of Jews (and others) near Kiev and other horrific vignettes. Vinogradov’s malleable bass is sinuously in line with Petrenko’s lighter touch in ‘Humour’ and bolsters the most shattering climax. Without him, the northern choral men are timbrally inauthentic and, worse, don’t seem to have been coached on the sense. So they have no pressure-points to apply (‘mne strashno’, ‘I’m frightened’, is an instant giveaway). The Moscow Choral Academy for Barshai in another bargain Shostakovich cycle have the edge. But do investigate Petrenko’s unexpected subtlety and lightness. David Nice