Rostropovich - Cello Concertos

CD 1
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Concerto-Rhapsody for Cello in D minor (1963)
London Symphony Orchestra/George Hurst
Royal Festival Hall, London, 21 December 1963
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906- 1975)
Cello Concerto No.2 Op.126 (1966)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
Royal Festival Hall, London, 5 October 1966
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, for cello and orchestra, Op. 33 (1876)
London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
Royal Albert Hall, London, 30 June 1964
BBCL 4073-2 [75:22]
CD 2
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129 (1850)
London Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
Aldeburgh Festival, Orford Church, 6 July 1961
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1895)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
Royal Albert Hall, London, 21 August 1968
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Pezzo Capriccioso for cello and orchestra, Op. 62 (1887)
English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
Aldeburgh Festival, Maltings, Snape, 16 June 1968
BBCL 4110-2 [71:02]
CD 3
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto in C major, Hob. VIIb:1 (c.1765)
London Symphony Orchestra
Royal Festival Hall, London, 1 July 1965
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (1872)
London Symphony Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Royal Festival Hall, London, 7 July 1965
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor Op.85 (1918)
London Symphony Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Royal Festival Hall, London, 5 July 1965
BBCL 4198-2 [67:35] 

BBC LEGENDS BBCL 5005-2 [3 CDs: 75:22 + 71:02 + 67:35]

This three CD slip-cased set consists of discs that were previously available singly at full price. Re-packaging has led to a pleasing price drop. They were taped for the BBC during the years 1961 to 1968, the overwhelming majority being in mono.
A number of these performances have become well known, and so I’ll highlight what’s in store for a prospective purchaser. The Dvořák Concerto was given on the day that Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring and angry protesters can be heard decrying the invasion, shouts that are swiftly repudiated by other audience members. Rostropovich takes the same sort of tempi he’d taken a decade earlier with Boult, and the same that he had taken (live) with Boris Khaikin but he starts with considerable tensile venom and even rushes some bars in the first movement, so intense is his performance. Rostropovich recorded this work many times, but this live one holds a special place in his discography, even if the Talich and the Boult are the most solidly and musically recommendable.
Rostropovich never recorded the Elgar commercially, and the reason given was invariably that he considered the performances of it by his erstwhile student, Jacqueline du Pré, definitive. In fact she and Barbirolli made that famous LP a month after this concert performance. It’s something of a loss that he never took it into the studio, as he clearly brought an insightful view to it. A couple of his live performances have fortunately survived, and this reading is one of two with conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky to have been issued. It’s a technically adroit and in many ways convincing performance - not quicksilver, but a touch more measured and musing. Vibrated intensely in the first movement, the cellist is at his most quixotic, indeed skittish, at points in the finale. The orchestral fabric is more debatable, lacking a measure of grip. There is a degree of tape hiss, as indeed there is on most of these broadcasts, but it’s not worryingly intrusive.
For the Schumann he collaborates with Britten and the LSO at the Aldeburgh Festival in a highly recommendable performance which convinces at almost every turn. Maybe he lacks something of the sheer elegance of Fournier in this work, but setting that aside, the work’s wayward rhetoric is securely judged by soloist and conductor.
In Haydn’s C major Concerto Rostropovich directs the LSO, which sounds a bit flustered as a result. The cellist plays with gusto and panache, and employs Britten’s cadenzas. Ensemble just about survives at a couple of junctures. Saint-Saëns’ A minor Concerto is played with marvellous technique and rich legato phrasing, though it’s slightly let down by Rozhdestvensky’s inattentive accompaniment.
The Russian pieces are clearly going to be special, and so they prove. Khachaturian’s Concerto Rhapsody is an excitingly windy piece but this is its first Western performance and its dedicatee plays it with the necessary clout. Intense melodic phraseology marries virtuosic panache in this searing performance, whatever one’s feelings about the work itself. George Hurst does a thoroughly estimable job with the LSO. Shostakovich’s Second Concerto is with the LSO and Colin Davis. This too is an outstanding, remarkably powerful reading. The BBC Orchestra holds up well, the brass survives the pressure and little pockets of lyricism are plundered avidly. This, again, is the Western European premiere, and is one of the very best prizes in this set of three discs. Tchaikovsky is represented by the Rococo variations in the Fitzhagen arrangement - again with Davis - and the Pezzo capriccioso in a sizzling performance.
If you missed the single discs, then now is the chance to acquire all three at that reduced price. The performances certainly justify the acquisition.

Jonathan Woolf  

Masterwork Index: Shostakovich concertos ~~ Dvorak concerto ~~ Elgar concerto

The chance to acquire all three discs at reduced price. The performances certainly justify the acquisition