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Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sinfonia concertante in E minor, Op. 125 (1952) [38:24]
Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Cello Concerto in C minor, Op. 66 (1944) [28:01]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 (1915, arr. cello and piano) [6:52]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); Alexander Dedyukhin (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent.
rec. Abbey Road, London 15 April 1957 (P), 5 March 1956 (M), 27 April 1957 (mono) (R). ADD.

Of all the recent EMI GROCs, this is surely one of the greatest, if not the greatest. Back in 2004 I reviewed an EMI Classic Archive DVD of Rostropovich in the Prokofiev, that time accompanied by Okko Kamu, waxing lyrical over its merits. The present performance, if anything, is even greater. Sargent accompanies well-nigh perfectly, and the standard of the orchestral balancing is highlighted by the present superb transfer - by Ian Jones.
Rostropovich was the inspiration behind this reworking of the Cello Concerto, Op. 8 of 1933-38. Of all works, the Sinfonia concertante is one that qualifies for the epithet of, ‘of limited playership‘. The score bristles with difficulties; exactly the sort of difficulties that were Rostropovich’s daily bread. Both sides of Rostropovich’s artistry are fully on display here – the jaw-dropping virtuosity and that amazing ability to spin a legato line like the finest singer. There is an unremitting intensity to the score that seemed to feed Rostropovich:s very soul. The RPO plays as if inspired, with a sequence of wind solos that are as idiomatic as they are beautiful. The second movement Allegro giusto bristles with hurdles. Just listening to Rostropovich can make you dizzy. Recorded balance seems just right between soloist and orchestra at all times - the producer was Lawrance Collingwood - and there is a most appealing warmth to the overall sound.
The Miaskovsky has had a hard press. Prokofiev had his doubts over Miaskovsky, while Malcolm MacDonald in his Gramophone review of this performance echoed the same doubts. Robert Layton and David Gutman (the latter the annotator of this release) are more on the piece’s side, citing the prevailing simplicity as the strongest point of the score. With Rostropovich as soloist, it must be admitted, it is difficult to harbour any doubts seriously. His glorious mezza-voce low register, and truly beautiful cantabile in the first movement are balanced by the glow at around sixteen minutes into the second. The close of the work hangs in the air, out of which comes Rachmaninov’s famous Vocalise. Here the meandering flow of melody and the ultra-delicate piano pianissimi make for the most haunting end possible for the disc. If on paper the Rachmaninov looks like an encore, in practise it is much more than that.
I gave a cordial welcome to a super-budget Miaskovsky cello disc on Regis back in 2001. It is certainly true the disc has its merits, but if it is just the Op. 66 concerto you are after, then there is really no competition, especially as if you hunt around you will find the present Slava release for about the same price as a Naxos.
Stunning. Those of us lucky enough to hear Slava live can only be grateful that we experienced the overwhelming musicality, charisma and generosity of the man in the flesh. This, though, acts as a fitting memorial.
Colin Clarke

EMI Great Recordings of the Century page


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