Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13

Riccardo Muti / Chicago Symphony Orchestra

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Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 Review

by James Manheim

Riccardo Muti has shown such vigor over his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that it's easy to forget how long his career has been. In 1970, in Rome, he conducted the Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 113, of Shostakovich; the work, which almost landed the composer in hot water once again in the Soviet Union, had only recently been smuggled out to the West and was far from a common item. So Muti has long experience with this searing work and its gravity. He comes in at about a minute shorter per movement than Maxim Shostakovich and the Prague Symphony Orchestra, whose tempi presumably reflected the composer's wishes, but it's all to the good. In this live CSO recording, Muti has room for the truly tragic quality of the first movement, with the Yevgeny Yevtushenko text about the Babi Yar massacre and the absence of any memorial on the site 20 years later in the Soviet Union, but what's remarkable about this choral symphony is that the first movement is just the beginning of Yevtushenko and Shostakovich's deadly critique, which proceeds through satire and depictions of gray conformity. Muti vividly characterizes each movement in this most Mahlerian of Shostakovich's symphonies, and bass Alexey Tikhomirov is attuned to another influence here, that of Mussorgsky. Best of all is the engineering, which garnered this release a Grammy award. The Chicago Symphony's fabled brass sound as good as they ever have. The performance may have been spliced together from more than one concert; the Shostakovich was repeated over several evenings in September of 2018, and the notes give only the month for a recording date, but this is a mightily impressive "Babi Yar" on all counts.

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