Shostakovich Symphony No. 13
The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, The Netherlands Radio Choir, & Jan-Hendrik Rootering, Bass
“It is outstanding in every way. You only have to hear the violins’ slashing accents at figure 4 in the first movement, where the soloist sings “and fine ladies with their lacey frills shriek and poke their parasols in my face,” to know that Wigglesworth & Co. are fully attuned to the music’s expressive world. The menacing second subject, with its description of a pogrom, erupts with an impressive sense of menace, while the big climaxes in the first, third, and fourth movements are as powerful and intense as anyone could ask. Bass soloist Jan-Hendrik Rootering has the range for the part and an evenness of tone unmatched by most Russian singers, while the men of the Netherlands Radio Chorus sing as though their lives depended on it, with a genuine understanding of the words.
But it’s not all just blood and thunder. Wigglesworth’s handling of the opening ritornello theme in the finale, “A Career”, has a pastoral gentleness unmatched by just about any other performance, and the closing pages are simply magical. So while, for example, Barshai (Brilliant Classics) is unmatched in the first movement for sheer terror and a sense of impending doom, I think it’s probably safe to say that this performance offers the most satisfying conclusion captured thus far. And if you want “Babi Yar” in terrific multichannel sound, this version also is the way to go. So there you have it: a performance and recording about as good as they come. I don’t know how many “Babi Yars” you have, or how many you may think you need, but if you’re in the market, then let this one (along with Barshai’s and Haitink’s and Kondrashin’s and…) be one of them.”
David Hurwitz, Classics Today, November 2006
“Occasionally, among the avalanche of Shostakovich centenary-year recordings, along comes one that really makes a difference. Wigglesworth secures brilliantly characterised playing from the orchestra, with a fine contribution from Rootering.”
Malcolm Hayes, Classic FM Magazine, December 2006
“Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle continues with probably the most convincing Thirteenth to have appeared in the West….Wigglesworth keeps the work moving forward with keener onward momentum than Haitink and a greater formal continuity than Jansons…[He] is unusually successful in maintaining tension over the volatile intermezzo that is ‘Fears’ while the close of the finale has an ethereal lightness that perfectly captures Shostakovich’s evocation of the eternal within the human spirit.
Almost 45 years on from its première, the audacity of a work such as Babi Yar in confronting social hypocrisy can seem hard to recapture. Wigglesworth’s reading may not be the last word – but with SACD sound bringing out hitherto unsuspected subtleties in Shostakovich’s scoring, it conveys the work’s emotional power to impressive effect. As a modern complement to Kondrashin’s studio version, one cannot do better.”
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review, October 2006
“Wigglesworth has plenty of ideas about timing and articulation, and they are of a piece with a powerful overview.”
David Fanning – Gramophone Magazine, October 2006
“Mark Wigglesworth has produced some of the most provocative interpretations of the Shostakovich symphonies. Admirers of his daringly slow tempi and wide dynamic range will have much to applaud in this sumptuous version of the Thirteenth. His specialty of generating nuances of texture and phrasing is well supported by strong ensemble work on the part of the chorus and orchestra. When the chorus leap to their feet at the start of the second thematic group, the sombre atmosphere is suddenly charged with intense passion. Exceeding all expectations is the sheer monumentality brought to each of the movement’s climactic sections. If the marching staccato notes that lead to the first movement climax trawl under the elongated tempi, the breadth and depth of the movement as a whole simply overwhelms. The climactic sections of the third and fourth movements are likewise drawn from quiet beginnings and stretched to daring proportions, and are profoundly moving.
Bass soloist Jan-Hendrik Rootering sings with utter sincerity. In the Babi Yar lines that identify the poet with the denounced and persecuted Jews throughout history, Rootering conveys a heartfelt sense of humanity and deep personal injury. His voice also possesses a curiously turbulent quality that keeps the line fluid and engaging. At the same time there are moments in the first two movements where the weight and intensity of chorus and orchestra are at odds with his mellow bass tones. His voice is more a vessel of vulnerability and volatility, and as such lacks the outward projection needed to capture the anger and outrage in Yevtushenko’s charged verses. Some of the irony of the Humour movement, already somewhat diluted by the elongated tempi, seems to be lost on him.
Rootering is better suited to the settings of the latter half of the symphony, particularly with At The Store, which calls for expressions of compassion rather than moral indignation. He embraces these verses about women enduring daily hardships with exquisite sensitivity. He achieves rare poignancy in the tender passage with falling glissandi that leads to the powerful choral and orchestral climax. The broadly-paced percussive strokes on the part of the orchestra in the climactic aftermath provide a stunning affirmation. A finer rendition of this movement would be hard to find. In the subsequent Fears movement, Rootering’s wide vibrato set against the eerily trilling strings creates a most effective atmosphere of foreboding. Nowhere else but in the Wigglesworth version will we find the chorus’ gradual crescendo in the Soviet-style military march spanning such a wide dynamic range and reaching such a stirring peak. Rootering may not meet everyone’s expectations in the first half of the symphony, but Wigglesworth realizes his unique vision of the work superbly.”
Louis Blois, DSCH, November 2006
“You can tell much about a conductor’s devotion to Shostakovich’s most outspoken protest-symphony from the opening bars. Here, in the middle distance of a recording rich on perspectives (both in its super-audio and standard formats), woodwind and muted brass proclaim a smooth, stalking objectivity. Wigglesworth immediately extends his spacious authority, in a cycle which so far deserves respect and admiration, to his Dutch soloist and chorus. Jan-Hendrik Rootering, a thoughtful Hans Sachs in Wigglesworth’s Covent Garden run of Die Meistersinger, goes farther than any bass I’ve heard in introspective warmth of phrasing at the heart of the Symphony, a heartbreaking setting of poet Yevtushenko’s salute to the enduring women of Soviet Russia. That quality, along with the veiled orchestral lines and the discreet percussion taps, only make the climax at the words ‘it is shameful to short-change them! It is sinful to short-weight them!’ the more overwhelming. As with the Symphony’s other tidal-wave crescendos, the professional weight of Simon Halsey’s Netherlands Radio Choir basses brings burnished focus to savage indignation, eased only by tender Netherlands Philharmonic soloists in the final balm of grace. The performance may not quite have the searing authenticity in every bar evinced by Barshai’s Cologne Babi Yar – Wigglesworth, I’m sure, would be the first to bow before those who lived through the events so baldly evoked – but it’s a noble effort all the same.”
David Nice, BBC Music Magazine, October 2006