B Tchaikovsky, Babadjanyan, Britten, Popper, Sauguet, Schumann, Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1; Cello Concerto No. 2

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COMPOSERS: B Tchaikovsky,Babadjanyan,Britten,Popper,Sauguet,Schumann,Shostakovich
LABELS: Russian Disc (distr. Koch)
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1; Cello Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: USSR SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: RD CD 11 109 AAD

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Rostropovich is one of the most passionate communicators in music, and every note on these discs gives vivid testimony to the immense dedication he brings to his performances as a solo artist. The recordings were made live at concerts given in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in the Sixties. All the contemporary works were dedicated to Rostropovich, and the Britten is the premiere performance with the composer conducting. The sound has a fierce, dry clarity, which shows up the lack of tonal refinement in the orchestral playing, but every nuance of Rostropovich’s artistry is clearly focused, with the listener placed as if towards the front of the stalls, This is fine in most of the performances, but in Britten’s Cello Symphony the balance is disastrous, the forward positioning of the cello working against the composer’s intention that soloist and orchestra should be equal partners.

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The Schumann receives a deeply intense reading, and Rostropovich brings emotional engagement as well as technical mastery to the contemporary works by Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation to the more famous Pyotr Ilyich), Babadjanyan and Sauguet. The opening concerto on the Hindemith/Bloch disc is not Haydn’s D major as described, but an attractive 19th-century piece by the cello virtuoso David Popper. Most recommendable, however, is the useful coupling of the two Shostakovich concertos. There is the same spontaneous excitement in the solo part of the First Concerto as in Rostropovich’s classic 1959 studio recording for CBS, and his live version of the underrated Second is equally satisfying. Svetlanov and the USSR SO provide strong support. David Michaels