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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op. 107a (1959) [27’30].
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sinfonia concertante in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 125b (1952) [36’18].
BONUS: Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Songs and Dances of Deathc (1875-77) [20’42].
Mstislav Rostropovich (abcello/cpiano); cGalina Vishnevskaya (soprano); aLondon Symphony Orchestra/Charles Groves; bOrchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo/Okko Kamu.
Rec. aLondon on December 16th, 1961; bCannes, France, on January 12th, 1970; cORTF, Paris, on January 20th, 1970.
PAL. 4:3. mono


Miraculous documents, here, of some remarkable performances. Black and white Slava et al for the Shostakovich, a BBC production directed by Walter Todds. A studio performance, applause nevertheless greets Rostropovich, who plays on a rostrum set off from the rest of the orchestra at considerable distance (as seems to have been the norm for these events). The sound contains some congestion as far as the orchestra is concerned, but not enough to seriously detract from an extraordinary document. The horn player (Barry Tuckwell, no less) is superb (the way the solo instruments are superimposed for the exposed duet passage is both imaginative and effective). The power of the first movement comes from the rock-solid rhythm that Rostropovich and Groves exhibit. No less impressive are the sudden extreme dynamic contrasts with which Rostropovich peppers the line and the singing intensity of the high lines.

Rostropovich is at his most expressive in the Moderato (which includes a rare split from Tuckwell!) – the strings of the LSO match this expressivity. A passage of cello harmonics and celesta with ghostly, non-expressive strings creates a most disturbing effect.

The five-minute cadenza, which makes up the third movement, is absolutely hypnotic in Rostropovich’s hands – the virtuosity towards the end simply defies belief. If Groves perhaps does not maintain the tension created by his soloist in this cadenza he does nevertheless manage to set up a fair rhythmic momentum. The close-up of Rostropovich’s scalic work at the end of the work is a chance to eavesdrop on the privileged world of the virtuoso.

Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante has quite a reputation amongst cellists. It requires the utmost stamina from the brave protagonist. Rostropovich (in slightly faded colour this time) had a hand in the reworking of the E minor Concerto into the present score, so there is a real element of authenticity here. Rostropovich’s first recording of it in the West was with Malcolm Sargent and the RPO (HMV ALP1640) – he tackled it later with Ozawa on Erato, and there was a Revelation CD of a 1964 account of the score with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under Rozhdestvensky. Okko Kamu, looking alarmingly young at the time, conducts the spikier passages mechanistically. The miracle of this performance is that despite its relentless tread, a Russian-perfumed lyricism informs the whole. There is another gripping cadenza in the second movement (allegro giusto), which movement also includes some moments that could easily come straight out of Cinderella (1945). Faster passages are absolutely staggering in effect.

The Andante con moto initial section of the finale begins with one of those long-breathed lines Rostropovich is so good at. I also love the way that when there is an interchange between soloist and violins, Rostropovich turns round in his chair and stares as if to say, ‘Now its your turn!’. The virtuosity of the end is just unbelievable.

Cello is swapped for piano stool in the ‘bonus’ item – Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death. Interestingly, Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya have recorded this work together, coupled with Prokofiev’s Five Poems, Op. 27 and some Tchaikovsky songs on Philips 853134AY. Rostropovich accompanies by memory, his carefully textbook hand position belying the range of sonority he achieves (try the ominous octaves of the ‘Lullaby’). Vishnevskaya’s characterisation is excellent. The third movement is the bleakest of Trepaks; the finale (‘The Field Marshal’) includes dramatic sweeping gestures from Vishnevskaya. In fact, she is positively hypnotic – this is a marvellous ‘extra’, one to be treasured.

There are informed notes by Michael Jameson for this product – but alas not for the Mussorgsky. Neither do there appear to be any subtitles – the texts with translations can be found at http://www.ludwigvanweb.com/navigation/1,1270,6-1-cd-013491329826,00.html (simply click on ‘View Booklet’ and then click on page 10).

In all, then, a document to be snapped up, and not just by fans of the cello.

Colin Clarke


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