WORKS: Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar)
PERFORMER: Anatoly Kotscherga (bass) National Male Choir of Estonia, Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 449 187-2
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 originated as a setting of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s 1961 poem ‘Babi Yar’, in which the lack of a memorial to the thousands of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis near Kiev during the war is angrily condemned. The composer’s decision to group that poem with others by Yevtushenko, all more or less explicitly critical of the Soviet regime, underlined how the fate of the Ukrainian Jews could speak of a more general suffering under Stalinism. There was thus some doubt about whether the authorities would allow the symphony’s first performances to go ahead, even though – to the disgust of many – Shostakovich had joined the Communist Party in 1960.
In this recording, Neeme Järvi continues his revealing survey of the symphonies, begun with the Scottish National Orchestra; here, he stresses that beyond the familiar fury and sardonic humour there is a gentle, if bleak, sense of yearning. Under the conductor’s well-paced direction, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra gives a powerfully atmospheric performance, especially in the lyrical, lightly orchestrated sections, and there is a dramatic dialogue between the idiomatically expressive chorus and the bass soloist Anatoly Kotscherga, who eloquently conveys the passion, indignation and resignation of the poems. William Humphreys-Jones