Any fresh sidelights that can be cast on Shostakovich’s uproarious masterpieces of the 1930s are worth a listen. A semi-operatic experiment, the Prologue to Orango charts the history of a humanoid ape who is on show in the Soviet Union following a chequered career in the West. Gerard McBurney orchestrated the 13-page piano score – which includes music Shostakovich had resuscitated from his short-lived second ballet The Bolt – providing a half-hour curtain-raiser which received its world premiere in Los Angeles last December, directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The musical gags are just about nourishing enough to succeed without visuals, and the final hysteria whips the audience
into a frenzy.
The Prologue makes a curious yet first-rate companion to the mighty Shostakovich Four. Salonen’s approach to this half-human, half-monster Symphony is well-calculated. He makes clear connections between material that can so often seem random in the adventure of the first movement, and makes sure everything can be heard in cataclysmic climaxes. The clarity of bass lines and percussion is aided by the sound team’s excellent management of LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. You’ll need to turn to Russian masters Kirill Kondrashin and Gennady Rozhdestvensky for more craziness in passages such as the first movement’s scorching string fugue, or for a more hallucinatory quality about the twilight zones. But the LA recording adds much to our understanding of an extraordinarily complex giant.