Tchaikovsky • Britten
Given their close friendship, their exceptional musicianship and the fact Britten wrote no less than five works for the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, one may regret how relatively few recordings they made together. Therefore this first commercial DVD release of these TV broadcasts (save the Pezzo capriccioso, previously issued on CD) is most welcome. Taped at the Snape Maltings in 1968, Rostropovich is the main star in the all-Tchaikovsky concert, and rightly so given the virtuosic qualities of the two works he performs; but it is a joy to see the two musicians in partnership, Britten sympathetically accompanying with the ECO. So considerate and clear a conductor is he that it is almost a shock when a small disaster strikes in Romeo and Juliet: in the anguished harmonic pile-up which heralds the music of conflict, Britten’s clear off-beat cue for the cellos is misread by half the string section, resulting in a ragged entry. Things are quickly back on track, but it is only from the second fight episode that the performance really takes wing, the orchestra inspired and responsive to Britten’s detailed and expressive conducting.
The ‘bonus’ is a real treat: Britten conducting excerpts from Gloriana, the one full-scale opera he never otherwise recorded. Peter Pears, though past his prime, sings the ‘Lute Song’ very acceptably, and both chorus and orchestra are fully alert to Britten’s every gesture – a truly electrifying performance.