LSO/Temirkanov – Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony

Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19
Symphony No.13 in B flat minor, Op.113 (Babi Yar)

Sayaka Shoji (violin)

Sergei Leiferkus (bass)

Gentlemen of the London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 24 February, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sayaka ShojiSayaka Shoji won the Paganini Competition in 1999. She has since worked closely with Yuri Temirkanov, touring Japan with the St Petersburg Philharmonic in 2001. Taking on Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto is a brave move, for at its heart lies a lyricism that requires much maturity. Temirkanov has much experience, for the orchestral contribution was a miraculous web of detail.

Shoji has a warm sound, but that was tempered by some bow-shake early on. Traces of literalism reflected her general lack of charisma, a trait especially marked in the finale in which her aloof stance led her to miss expressive opportunities – such a contrast to the solo bassoon contribution. While one admired her technical prowess (superhumanly even trills towards the end and simply perfect scales), this piece requires much more.

Sergei LeiferkusSergei Leiferkus, in Shostakovich’s ‘Babi Yar’ Symphony, was pretty much Shoji’s polar opposite. His identification with Yevtushenko’s texts is clearly the result of long familiarity. The combination of Temirkanov and Leiferkus was a powerful one, with both seeking to deliver full meaning of the texts. The oppressive might of the male voices of the London Symphony Chorus, the stinging grotesqueries of the orchestra and the sheer dignity with which Leiferkus imbue the text (as at “Oh, my Russian people, I know you are internationalists at heart…”) was remarkable. More, Temirkanov’s awareness of the work’s structure meant that the return to the opening gesture towards the end of the first movement made huge impact.

Interesting that Temirkanov held back the heaviness of the second movement (‘Humour’) slightly at first, in a successful bid to highlight the mania of the first true outburst. This was a reading that sought to do full justice to the oppressive heart of this score. Even moments of radiance (in the third movement, and again in the passage for flutes at the opening of the finale) were heard in this context. The extended held-breath of reverence for the women of Russia (again, the third movement) was miraculously maintained by Temirkanov.

The men of the LSC were in fine voice. The words were a miracle of clarity of diction, the ensemble a continual source of wonder. Temirkanov reminds us of the qualities of a true conductor – humility in front of the score coupled with a burning desire for musical truth. Small wonder that musicians give their all for him.

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