Shostakovich: 13th Symphony ‘Babi Yar’ (CSO.Resound)
Half a century ago, in January 1970, the young Riccardo Muti gave this symphony its Western Europe premiere in Rome with the RAI orchestra and the wonderful bass Ruggiero Raimondi. The performance was semi-samizdat. A score had been smuggled out of Russia, where the work was suppressed for its denunciation of Soviet antisemitism, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s text was unofficially translated into Italian. Muti, who never forgot the occasion, revisited it 16 months ago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Although unversed in Russian ironies, his interpretation has the authority of a leader who lived through the late-Soviet era and observed the shoddy deals that democracies made, and continue to make, with rotten regimes. This is not about them: it’s about us. There is a grandeur to Muti’s tempi that expresses both magnitude and contempt. It is totally convincing from the opening phrase.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays more powerfully than any Russian orchestra, then or since, and the men of the Chicago chorus with Alexei Tikhomorov as soloist do full justice to Yevtushenko’s sonorous lines. Solti, a late convert to Shostakovich, recorded this symphony in Chicago in 1995. Muti, I feel, has more to say. On record, only Mariss Jansons comes close.
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