Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
12:00 AM 15th June 2024

Classical Music: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 Pärt: De Profundis

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, Pärt: De profundis

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) De profundis; Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975) Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 113

Albert Dohmen (Bass-Baritone)
Estonian National Male Choir
BBC Philharmonic John Storgårds

Chandos CHSA 5335

Arvo Pärt's atmospheric De profundis is stunningly simple and beautiful - perfect as this disc's opener. In 1980, Pärt composed it for male voices, organs, and percussion. Here we hear the composer’s later adaptation of the piece for male voices and chamber orchestra, from 2008. The short work is a perfect example of the style the composer termed ‘tintinnabuli’ and an aesthetic that others would later label ‘holy minimalism’. The superlative Estonian National Male Choir performs it with a mystic presence that draws the listener into the music, adding to its textural depth.

The music forms part of John Storgårds’s acclaimed series of Shostakovich symphonies with the BBC Philharmonic, continuing here with No 13, subtitled ‘Babiy Yar’. As the notes point out, it caused a great deal of tension and controversy in the lead-up to its première in December 1962—not because of the music but because of the poetry. Shostakovich had chosen to set Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s Babiy Yar. Ostensibly an outraged response to the lack of a memorial for the thousands of Jews murdered by the Nazis and dumped in a ravine near Kyiv, the poem implicitly criticised the anti-Semitism then still rife in the Soviet Union.

Originally planned as a short cantata, the work grew in stature as Shostakovich chose additional poems by Yevtushenko for inclusion, finally settling on the form of a five-movement symphony.

Typical of Shostakovich's style, it occasionally assumes a somber presence, enhanced by the excellent contributions of percussion and brass. The male voice choir masterfully conveys the heaviness and menacing impression, while a terrific ensemble and orchestra under John Storgårds baton bring out the different colours and moods. Albert Dohmen’s bass baritone persuasively narrates; his storytelling has emotional and expressive depth.

The ending of the third movement with the lower strings and the opening of the fourth with the percussive and brass sections, followed by the hushed tones from the choir, are convincingly effective in adding to the drama. The last movement is particularly fine, with delightful contributions from all of the BBC Philharmonic's musicians, and as the quiet ending with its lovely motif and string playing draws us to a conclusion, we can only ponder Yevgeny Yevtushenko's words (translated by Andrew Huth):

'I believe in their sacred belief,'
and their belief gives me courage.
I’ll follow my career in such a way
that I’m not following it!'

Despite the plodding feel to the music, Storgård's empathy with Shostakovich’s music shines through, and there are many moments of dramatic intensity. The precision with which the musicians shape their lines adds the thoughtful dimension that this work deserves.