For anyone who still has difficulty accepting Deryck Cooke’s completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, Shostakovich’s opera The Gamblers poses even more of a problem. In 1941, after completing work on the Leningrad Symphony, Shostakovich began an adaptation of Gogol’s play The Gamblers (not to be confused with Dostoyevsky’s novel The Gambler, singular, as set by Prokofiev twelve years earlier). But he never got beyond the first forty-to-fifty minutes of music. The reasons he gave were that he had found himself unable to cut any of Gogol’s substantial text, which, if maintained, would have resulted in an opera of unmanageable length. The torso was performed in Moscow in the late Seventies, but it was only a few years later that the Polish composer Krzysztof Meyer completed the opera (making cuts in the text) in a cunningly echt- Shostakovich style, and this version was staged in Germany in 1983. Despite the consummate skill of Meyer’s wedding of new and old, the opera’s conversational nature means it is not as immediately appealing as either the satire of The Nose or the drama of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, though it ‘improves’ with repeated listening.
This is the first recording of the completed version and, although the source is German, the fine cast is all-Russian, assembled from leading Bolshoi soloists, most notably the tenor Vladimir Bogachov as the card-sharper Ikharyov. The North West German Philharmonic plays superbly and Mikhail Yurovsky never lets the pace drag. One primarily for the devoted Shostakovich fan – others would be better advised to try the other operas first. Matthew Rye