LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Cello Concerto
PERFORMER: Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); LSO, ECO/Benjamin Britten, USSR State SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4110-2 ADD mono/stereo
This disc displays several dimensions of Mstislav Rostropovich’s expressive range as a cellist. The makeweight, Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso, finds him in irrepressibly ebullient spirits, displaying a burly enthusiasm that is uniquely his own. The Schumann Concerto is a more varied and problematic piece, and Rostropovich’s recordings have consistently tried to give due emphasis to the big-boned scaffolding of the work while finding eloquent melancholy in lyrical moments. This 1961 account with Britten on the podium may be marginally preferable to the richly recorded 1976 Bernstein-led EMI version, which tends to be over-indulgent and sometimes ponderous by comparison. Even so, it is Steven Isserlis, creating stretches of daringly delicate and introspective magic, who has made Schumann’s vision come alive most hauntingly for me.
Finally, this performance of the Dvorák Concerto is best understood less as a considered realisation of the work (Rostropovich’s classic DG recording with Karajan, made just a month later, is exemplary in that regard) than as a moving memento of a particular time and place. A Soviet soloist, conductor and orchestra performing a great Czech work in the West (in this case, at a Prom) on the very day of the Soviet invasion of Prague (21 August 1968) was bound to be a fraught occasion, and so it proves. Rostropovich’s intensity is ferocious – at times he pushes the tempo beyond any possibility of maintaining composure and decorum – but this reading palpably conveys the urgent importance music possesses when emotions are frayed. David Breckbill