Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a very fine performance of Shostakovich's magnificent and moving "Babi Yar" symphony, more noteworthy for its overall cogency and coherence than for any particularly outstanding moments. This is not meant as an example of damning with faint praise. Neither Jansons nor the Bavarian Radio Symphony is known for "letting it all hang out" emotionally, and they produce intensity as a function of their inherent musicality, their knowledge of where the music is going, and the confidence they exude in getting there. This group eschews the pervasive pitch-black atmosphere of doom and terror characterized by Barshai's performance (Brilliant Classics), and even if I do miss some of the sheer impact of that reference version
and wish the BRSO would hit that bloody tam-tam a bit harder at the climaxes, listening to this performance is a very satisfying, indeed fulfilling experience.
Jansons generally adopts comparatively swift tempos, consistent with this "symphonic" (as opposed to "episodic") view of the work. The first movement, particularly its central climax, has real energy and drive, even though its basic tempo is slow. "Humor" receives one of its best performances on disc, its satire captured in sparkling playing and in its implacable rhythmic drive. Bass soloist Sergei Aleksashkin, so memorable on Barshai's recordings, seems to own this particular role at present. He's not quite as steady as before, with some pitch problems in the second movement, but he shades every word of the text with meaning, so much so that you might fancy understanding what he's singing about whether you know Russian or not. He's that communicative, and that good. The men of the Bavarian Radio Choir also do a splendid job with both the notes and the text, helped by Jansons' determination to make the words clear without sacrificing the force of the climaxes.
His success is most impressive in the last three, connected movements. "In the Store" is naturally bleak (how could it not be, given this setting?), but also tender, reminding us that this is not a poem about standing in line as much as it is a tribute to the sacrifices of Russian women. "Fears" isn't as claustrophobic as in other performances, again a function of Jansons' conscious decision to go for clarity rather than atmosphere; but as with the previous movement, he creates a long, singing line and establishes a momentum that never lets up, and makes the finale one of the most sweetly lyrical and inevitable-sounding resolutions on disc. There's no question of anti-climax here: The concluding fugue and final punch-line--"I follow my career by not following it!"--capture the full musical force of Shostakovich's conviction that being true to one's calling is more important than the pursuit of opportunistic success. In short, this beautifully recorded disc presents "Babi Yar" as the major Shostakovich symphony that it is, an achievement that deserves your attention and consideration. Recommended.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 13 in B flat minor, Op. 113 "Babi Yar" by Dmitri Shostakovich
Sergei Alexashkin (Bass)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1962; USSR
Length: 60 Minutes 14 Secs.
Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor Op. 113: I. Babi Jar/Babi Yar
Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor Op. 113: II. Der Witz/Humour
Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor Op. 113: III. Im Laden/At the store
Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor Op. 113: IV. Ängst/Fears
Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor Op. 113: V. Karriere/Career
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