That Shostakovich concert — played by the Mahler Youth Orchestra under the baton of Teodor Currentzis — was about as traditional as the Ouverture Spirituelle got this year, aside from Handel’s “Messiah,” which was led by Jordi Savall but with smaller, clearer forces than usual and at the less-than-400-seat Kollegienkirche.
With its pride of place on the Ouverture Spirituelle’s opening night, the “Babi Yar” — nicknamed for its setting of a poem about remembering the massacre of over 30,000 Jews at the site in Ukraine — might have seemed a response to the war there, where Russian missiles struck the area around the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in the early days of the invasion. But, in an eerily prescient move, it was programmed last year.
Beyond that, the program was conducted by Currentzis, who with his ensemble MusicAeterna is under scrutiny for ties to the Russian state. (On Tuesday, he announced the formation of a new group, Utopia, with Western backing; tellingly, the news release referred to him as Greek instead of Greek-Russian, as he had been identifying himself, and made no mention of what this development means for the future of MusicAeterna.)
At the “Babi Yar” concert, though, the audience’s focus seemed to be more on the performance itself, given the ecstatic response to the orchestra and Currentzis — not to mention members of the MusicAeterna Choir and the Bachchor Salzburg. The soloist, Dmitry Ulyanov, had a characterful, sonorous bass that was reason enough to forgive indulgences by Currentzis like having the instrumentalists stand at an emotional climax (a gesture that doesn’t trust the music), or interminably holding his arms up to keep the hall silent at the end of the symphony (a gesture that doesn’t trust the listeners).
The evening took a more adventurous turn not long after at the Kollegienkirche, where members of Cantando Admont and Klangforum Wien presented two harrowing and hauntingly resonant works by Luigi Nono, one inspired by horrors in Poland during World War II (“Ricorda cosa ti hanno fatti in Auschwitz”), the other by oppressive Soviet rule (“Quando stanno morendo. Diario polacco n. 2”).