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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote Op.35 (1897) [42:31]
Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto No.2 in D major Hob.VIIb:2 (1782) [22:57]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Harry Danks (viola); Hugh Maguire (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent – Strauss
London Symphony Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich - Haydn
rec. Royal Albert Hall, 25 August 1964 (Strauss) and Royal Festival Hall, 1 July 1965 (Haydn)
BBC LEGENDS BBCL42402 [65:33]
Experience Classicsonline

We’ve already had a BBC broadcast of a Haydn concerto from Rostropovich – it was No.1 not the D major - in this ‘Legends’ series but not Don Quixote, a work he came to only in 1958 after a lifting of the anti ‘decadent’ strictures in place by the time of Stalin’s death. He recorded it with Boris Simsky (violin), L. Dvoskin (viola) and Kondrashin with the Moscow Philharmonic in 1964 [currently in a huge retrospective devoted to the cellist on EMI 17597] and also, famously, with Karajan in Berlin 1975, a recording that has seen wide currency in the reissue stakes. Their collaboration was notable for the aesthetic divergence between soloist and conductor, Karajan objecting to the roughened tone Rostropovich adopted. Where the cellist aimed at characterisation, Karajan aimed at ‘beauty.’ The cellist performed it with his colleague Rozhdestvensky a number of times, and, as here, with Malcolm Sargent. 

Sargent isn’t especially remembered for his Strauss but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t have taken to the music. He had earlier collaborated with the cellist in their famous traversal of the Miaskovsky concerto, also in the EMI box of course, as is the Saint-Saëns concerto they made at the same time and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante. As for Don Quixote Sargent had first conducted it back in 1931 for Piatigorsky. 

In almost every passage except the finale Sargent is fleeter than Karajan. He ensures a relatively lean view, expanding only in that final scene. As ever he is a considerate and thoughtful accompanist, as he has to be here integrating the two section principals into the fabric of the work and ensuring balances are maintained. The two are the BBC’s leader Hugh Maguire and the characterful viola principal Harry Danks, a long-serving member of the orchestra. There’s some inevitable tape hiss though it doesn’t obtrude once one concentrates on the music making. As for that it’s a little up and down. The solo string playing is excellent. Rostropovich’s earthy, larger-than-life impersonation is characteristically voluble and expressive; Danks is good, Maguire has less to do. There are times when the results are dramatic – The Ride through the Air is just one example. But equally things are a little on the bluff side – The Battle with the Sheep for instance – and the BBC orchestra can be a bit blustery. 

He recorded both Haydn concertos in 1975, directing the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Here he does the same, only with a small contingent from the LSO. This is a genial performance, broadly beamed and strong on rich, rounded cantabile phrasing. The recording quality is a touch better as well. 

Obviously there is cachet for live broadcast material from the cellist, though in these cash strapped times these can only ever be ancillary purchases. 

Jonathan Woolf


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