2020 started with news of yet another anti-semitic atrocity in the United States. My musical 2020 started with a new recording of that finest of all musical acts of resistance to anti-semitism, Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 13 in B-Flat minor “Babi Yar”. It’s a setting of poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko for orchestra, bass soloist and men’s chorus and it’s powerful stuff. It’s often performed at consistently high energy and volume and seething with anger. Riccardo Muti treats it rather differently. The recording, featuring bass Alexey Tikhomirov, the Chicago Symphony and the men of their chorus, doesn’t lack drama or intensity but it’s also often intensely lyrical. When require, Tikhomirov and the chorus produce some gorgeously beautiful, even delicate, singing and the orchestra do the same. There’s not much of the blaring brass one associates with the Leningrad recordings of the Shostakovich symphonies. Instead there’s some wonderful playing, especially by the low brass. The motif in the fourth movement, curiously reminiscent of the Fafner scene in Siegfried, features a sort of duet between tuba(?) and timpani to great effect. This is very fine music making.
The recording, on the CSO’s Resound label, is exemplary. The textures are crystal clear and the overall ambience feels like a proper symphony hall. This is the memorial for Babi Yar.