Rostropovich - music for cello and orchestra
CD 1
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor (1896) [39:20]
CD 2
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor (1850) [25:37]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme (1876) [18:52]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Talich (Dvorák)
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Schumann, Tchaikovsky)
rec. 1952 (Dvorák, 1961), 1961 (Schumann), 1957 (Tchaikovsky)
MAJOR CLASSICS M2CD022 [39:20 + 44:31]
Major Classics are bringing out an extensive series of reissues by major artists across a very interesting range of repertoire. Most of these are in 2 CD sets selling at super bargain price. Therefore they will seem a real bargain to the discerning collector and that is surely the case in these three performances by the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.
To tell the truth, with a combined time of little more than 80 minutes, these discs are not exactly well filled, and the performances could nearly fit on to one CD. However, the music-making is of such a standard that too much criticism about timings would be inappropriate.
Aside from giving the year of each recording Major Classics have been coy about exact provenance. If these are important reissues that seems a pity, since the venues and dates would be all the more interesting. This is an error of judgement on someone’s part, surely.
The earliest of the three performances gathered here is that of the Dvorák Cello Concerto, with the Czech Philharmonic and Vaclav Talich, no less. Perhaps the recording location was a studio in Prague, since if the performance is live then the audience was astonishingly well behaved. The balancing of soloist and orchestra leaves something to be desired. As so often the soloist sounds larger than life compared with all the other musicians, towards eighty of them, in this case. It’s true that Rostropovich was a larger than life musician, but not exactly in that sense.
It goes without saying that with a master conductor like Talich at the helm, this performance is thoroughly idiomatic. It is shaped with a sure sense of line and a magnificent control of the ebb and flow of the drama. Add to that the special intensity the soloist brings to the music and the results are nothing if not compelling. The orchestral string sound, particularly that of the violins, fares less well sonically than the woodwinds and brass. All in all though, this is a compelling performance of the greatest cello concerto ever written.
There is better sound to be heard in the pair of more recent recordings from the Leningrad Philharmonic under Rozhdestvensky, dating from 1961 (Schumann) and 1957 (Tchaikovsky). In fact the Schumann performance is a really strong one. Rostropovich makes an eloquent case for this concerto to be regarded as one of the composer’s major achievements. Again the balance favours the cello at the expense of the orchestra, but for a fifty-year-old recording in an ambient acoustic this has come up well thanks to the reissue process.
In Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations the sound is brightly lit and the approach is very Russian, as the horn’s wide vibrato confirms within the first minute. Rostropovich makes a wonderfully warm and full sound in his solo line, and what we hear therefore gives much satisfaction. If the playing styles of orchestras today are more ‘international’ than they were fifty plus years ago, is that necessarily a good thing? There is artistry in abundance on display here, and the performance is hugely enjoyable.
A few caveats apart, this Rostropovich reissue can be given an enthusiastic welcome.

Terry Barfoot

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A few caveats about recording balances apart, this Rostropovich reissue can be given an enthusiastic welcome.