Deutsche Grammophon continues its collaboration with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen with this new release of two works by Shostakovich: the prologue to Orango and Symphony no. 4. Both works, recorded live at Walt Disney Concert Hall this past December, are given searing performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and a cast of singers. The 2-disc set (over 90 minutes of music) will be available on June 19, 2012.
Little was known about Orango other than its title until 2004 when the Shostakovich scholar Olga Digonskaya unearthed a thirteen-page piano score of this prologue in the Glinka Museum in Moscow. The opera was apparently commissioned to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution and the well-known historical and science-fiction novelist Alexei Tolstoy (a distant relative of the author of War and Peace) and his regular collaborator, Alexander Starchakov, were brought in to write the libretto. The absurd plot they devised involved the improbable experiment in cross-breeding apes with humans to produce a “hybrid” – the Orango of the title.
Shostakovich, who had just completed his preliminary draft of the third act of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, immediately set down a piano sketch for this prologue to Orango borrowing the overture and other fragments from his earlier ballet, The Bolt op. 27 (1931), and from his musical-hall show Declared Dead (Hypothetically Murdered) op. 31 (also 1931). He also amused himself weaving in a slew of witty and satirical references to other music, including Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and the Russian popular song “Chizhik- Pyzhik”. And then, he stopped writing. It is still unclear why the project was abandoned.
After the discovery of the music the composer’s widow invited Gerard McBurney to orchestra the work. Drawing influence from contemporary works of Shostakovich and Russian theater music of the time he reconstructed the score which was given its world-premiere performance at the concerts captured for this release.
In addition to Orango, these concerts included Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 4. This work, also written in the 1930s, was actually completed and in rehearsal for its world-premiere when an official from the Communist Party forced Shostakovich to withdraw the work. The composition went unperformed for 25 years until it was given its long-delayed first performance in Moscow in December of 1961. This emotionally harrowing work clearly reflects the uncertain and difficult times Shostakovich lived in.