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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto in E flat, Op.107 [27:10]
Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Cello Concerto in C minor, Op.66 [27:57]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Rococo Variations, Op.35 [18:38]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Philadelphia O/Eugene Ormandy (Shostakovich)
Philharmonia O/Malcolm Sargent (Myaskovsky)
Leningrad PO/Gennady Rozhdestvensky (Tchaikovsky)
rec. 1957-61, various venues. ADD
ALTO ALC1262 [74:03]

Golden age analogue vinyl forms part of Alto's stock-in-trade. The recordings on this disc will be familiar to and often respected or loved by older hands. At the same time they disgorge riches sufficient to reward new listeners intrigued by reports and reputations. That's the case here despite the 'mature' technology dating back 55-60 years.

Anything where Ormandy is conducting Shostakovich is going to be well worth exploring. Try his Philadelphia recordings of symphonies 4 and 10 on Sony. He gave early performances outside the then-USSR of the last three symphonies - all with the composer's blessing. As for this Cello Concerto No. 1 it may well have been one of the reasons for the composer's regard for Ormandy. Impassioned doesn't do it justice; furious might be a closer approximation. To counteract the typically soulful central passages there's a ghoulish dance of death in a finale where the non troppo rider to the Allegro tempo/mood marking is very apt. LP stock must have been used because close-up there's just that inevitable hint of edge in the orchestral voice.

This recording was previously yoked, in an all-Shostakovich disc, with Oistrakh in Violin Concerto No. 1 on Regis.

Alto have already done a great deal for Myaskovsky. Do not forget the way it completed at bargain price the stalled Olympia set of the 27 symphonies as conducted by Svetlanov. This Sargent-conducted Cello Concerto for many years did more than any other recording to spread the good word about Myaskovsky beyond the Iron Curtain. Rightly or wrongly people either enthused about him or discounted him on the basis of this work and this reading. It has been reissued many times including by Pristine and EMI/Warner. Here is a composer from the generation before Shostakovich, contemporary with Bax, and fully in touch with the Slav temperament. He does not go in for surface glamour or japes. The music declares a preference for the deadly serious and is often prone to sorrows but always dignified. His music does not rend its clothes or bewail prostrate yet it is the height of eloquence. While the concerto offers moments of charging energy its longer paragraphs smile through the nostalgia of happy days and move seamlessly from this to melancholia. The recording and performance still sound very good.

Deutsche Grammophon flirted with Soviet connections in the 1950s. Mravinsky and Kurt Sanderling were engaged for a mono set of the last three numbered Tchaikovsky symphonies. Mravinsky alone tackled all those symphonies in early stereo in 1960s London. This was again with his Leningrad Phil and was in belligerent visceral sound. It can still be had from DG and probably always will. In addition Pristine have given that stereo cycle a very satisfying make-over. Away from the emotional furnace of these works Rostropovich and Rozhdestvensky essayed the Rococo Variations with Mravinsky's orchestra. The tape has been issued before on Regis but now emerges in new fettle on Alto. Rozhdestvensky displays all the sensitivity demanded by this exercise in contained emotions and delicacy. This is not a work of lurid colours - placid even when fast. Its family connections are with the Suite No. 4 and with Tchaikovsky's life-long love for the works of Mozart. It stands at the other end of the pitch from Francesca da Rimini, Manfred and Symphony No. 4.

This disc serves as a sequel to Alto ALC1261 where Rostropovich plays the Schumann and Dvorak concertos.

The chunky and informative notes are by Alto regular James Murray while the adept and cleaned up transfers from LP stock are by Paul Arden-Taylor.

Three classic recordings, logically coupled, nicely transferred and documented.

Rob Barnett



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