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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor Op. 104 [38:33]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor Op. 129 [25:20]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (Dvořák)
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Schumann)
rec. 1961/2
ALTO ALC>1261 [64:00]

I went immediately to the Schumann, a work which has been criticised for its form and scoring, and was captivated by a performance in which both orchestra and soloist appear to have no doubts about its merits. There is a sense of passionate involvement here that makes any thoughts about the apparent dullness of much of the orchestral part or the short windedness of the theme of the Finale seem irrelevant. The slow movement in particular, taken slower than usual, is ravishing, the only (serious) blot being the backward placing given to the orchestral solo cello. Apart from that I cannot imagine the Concerto being better performed, even if the orchestral brass do have a characteristically Russian tone. The element of fierceness this imparts does however add to a sense that the orchestra is wholeheartedly involved, something that one cannot take for granted in this work.

Rostropovich made many recordings of the Dvořák Concerto, including an extraordinary performance with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra at the Proms in August 1968 immediately after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. That has tension and extraordinary concentration that make it essential listening, but arguably does not represent the full character of the Concerto. The version on the present disc is very similar in general approach but on balance a truer version of the composer’s conception, with a particularly fine accompaniment from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. I have not compared it with all of the soloist’s other versions of the work but this is certainly a particularly fine performance and recording.

Rostropovich was a musician whose every performance was above all an act of communication. Every phrase, every note, even, is inflected to speak to the listener. There is no showing off of tone or virtuosity for their own sake, although both were remarkable in themselves. You may well have many other versions of both of these concertos in your collection, but it will be incomplete without at least one of Rostropovich’s recordings. Given the quality of performance, recording and presentation here, together with the low price at which it is offered, this is a disc which has many attractions.
John Sheppard