Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and bass soloist Alexey Tikhomirov in this poignant performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, Op. 113 (Babi Yar). Recorded live in September 2018, the ensemble shines throughout—from passages requiring the sheer sonic force of the first movement to the indelible moments provided by single instruments, reminding the listener that despite the enormity of its theme, this is, after all, a symphony of individuals. Muti and musicians expertly navigate the intricacies of the five movements, each set to the poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko and expressing themes that were dear to Shostakovich—revolution and war, the individual’s role in society, idealism in the face of easy compromise, prejudice and intolerance. Yevtushenko said, “Over people like Shostakovich death has no power. His music will sound as long as humankind exists. . . . When I wrote ‘Babi Yar,’ there was no monument there. Now there is a monument.”
There are American ensembles with a more sustained Shostakovich tradition than the Chicago Symphony but the present recording, taken from the opening concerts of the orchestra’s 2018-19 season, can stand comparison with any of its distinguished predecessors, however different in tone. Strongly recommended.
The tone virtually throughout is dark and intense, most particularly the opening movement which sets the title poem. Muti confirms his identification with this work in its subsequent movements. Tikhomirov, rich-toned and sentient throughout, is backed by a superbly characterful Chicago Symphony Chorus.
– BBC Music Magazine
The CSO’s performance, with bass Alexey Tikhomirov and the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, revealed Muti’s continuing devotion to Shostakovich’s often-shattering music. It was the first concert of the CSO’s new Symphony Center season, and the audience’s mood was festive. Muti channeled that excitement into rapt, almost reverent attention with a searing performance of a dramatic work that is very close to his heart.
– Chicago Sun-Times