Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4; Cello Concerto No. 1

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich,Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Cello Concerto No. 1
PERFORMER: Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); Leningrad PO/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
By 1971 Gennady Rozhdestvensky no longer stood in Mravinsky’s shadow at the Leningrad Philharmonic. His Tchaikovsky Fourth with the orchestra (from the 1971 Proms) is a very different interpretation from Mravinsky’s – less keenly animated throughout, more mysterious in the shadowlands of the opening movement’s limping first waltz as well as in the dream-worlds he makes of the inner movements. The scherzo is a real surprise, Mravinsky’s brand of pianissimo engaged in a barely audible pizzicato whisper soon silencing the restive Albert Hall audience. Even when Rozhdestvensky puts on a more urgent spurt – in the first-movement coda and the central passion of the Andantino – he always knows how to give space to the big climaxes. The heavier moments are less convincing in the cold light of recording; it takes the trumpets to bring life to ponderous opening fanfares, and the trombones making a witches’ sabbath out of the finale’s folksong eventually over-egg the pudding (what sounds like sour brass intonation earlier, incidentally, may be a problem with the original taping). Still, it’s thrilling to hear the crowd roaring its excited approval even before the symphony’s final chord comes to an end. A sprightlier, more savage Leningrad/Rozhdestvensky ensemble 11 years earlier make tough opponents for a hard-working Rostropovich in Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. It may be a trick of the balance, which hardly puts the soloist in the spotlight he needs, but Rostropovich for once sounds less equal to passionate pleas than to the rarer introspective passages. At moments like the start of the cadenza, though, it could only be a live performance on which we’re privileged to eavesdrop. David Nice