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Rostropovich - Cellist of the Century
The Complete Warner Recordings
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
rec. various dates and locations
Complete contents and dates below
WARNER CLASSICS 9029589230 [40 CDs + 3 DVDs + book: 40hrs]

2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Mstislav Rostropovich, and the ninetieth anniversary of his birth. To commemorate these significant landmarks, Warner Classics has released this deluxe edition of 40 CDs and 3 DVDs comprising both live and studio recordings. These have been expertly restored, with the analogue recordings remastered afresh in 24 bit-96khz from the original tapes. Warner have closely collaborated with the cellist’s daughters Elena and Olga Rostropovich along the way, and have been given unprecedented access to the Rostropovich archive. The 40 CDs & 3 DVDs come in cardboard wallets, which are, in turn, housed in a cloth-bound box with embossed silver foil title and image. This superb collection collates three previously released sets: The Complete EMI Recordings (Including the Russian Years Recordings) (2008), Rostropovich - The Russian Years 1950-1974 (1997) and a 9 CD set of Erato and Teldec recordings (2004).

Known as 'Slava', Rostropovich’s discography was huge. In fact, he was the most recorded cellist in history. He was a larger-than-life personality, well-loved and a charismatic communicator. I was amazed to discover that he disliked the recording studio, much preferring the inspirational spontaneity of the live event. Throughout his career he commissioned numerous new works for the instrument, starting with Miaskovsky’s Cello Sonata in 1948. This inspired Prokofiev to write one for him. A chain reaction began, with composers queuing up - Shostakovich, Britten, Kabalevsky, Weinberg, Tishchenko, Dutilleux, Schnittke, Lutosławski ........the list goes on and on. By extending the cello’s repertoire, he revolutionized playing, extended techniques and set new standards. He thus became an inspiration to a whole new generation of cellists.

Having collected many Rostropovich recordings over the years, I'm amazed by the sheer size and diversity of his discography. This wide-ranging repertoire is reflected in this Warner set. I shall deal first with the commercial recordings, then discuss the live ‘Russian’ recordings. There’s too much on offer to detail every work, so I’ll pick out some of the highlights. The Schumann Concerto was a great favourite of the cellist and several live airings have done the rounds. His commercial recording with Bernstein from 1976 ticks all the right boxes for me. His rapturous engagement and poetic vision of the score, imbuing it with romantic yearning and nobility, is second-to-none.  I particularly like the finale’s lightly sprung rhythm. Bernstein is the perfect foil, delineating the transparent orchestral textures, and deftly contouring the twists and turns of the narrative.  The recording is paired with a fervent rendition of Bloch’s Schelomo. The Dvořák Concerto is represented seven times in the commercial discography if one includes the DVD version. Here we have three to choose from, versions conducted by Boult (1957), Giulini (1977) and Ozawa (1985).  They all offer different approaches. The early Boult is notable for its classical restraint, the Giulini is romantically etched with broader tempi, with the Ozawa benefitting from wisdom and experience. Witty, good humoured and generous on lyricism, the Haydn Concertos find a true advocate in Rosropovich, Here he directs performances of both Concertos with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in 1975. I prefer No. 1 for its infectious charm. The energy and unbounded enthusiasm these performances generate, achieved with breath-taking virtuosity, make these two recordings one of the collection’s highpoints. I’m sure Haydn would have been more than happy.

The Brahms Double Concerto is represented twice - with Oistrakh and Szell in 1969, and Perlman and Haitink ten years later. Though each interpretation is deeply satisfying, the later recording from Amsterdam is in lusher sound. The splendid Concertgebouw acoustic confers more space around the instruments, and allows the music to breathe; the earlier recording sounds hard edged and cramped by comparison. Rostropovich made quite a name for himself in Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote, and the 1975 recording with Karajan and the Berliner Philharmonic has never been bettered, in my view. Rostropovich’s Don is clad in human garb, and the sumptuous sound of the Berliners, with Karajan, one of the finest Strauss interpreters at the helm, makes for a magical experience. The composer’s rarely programmed early Cello Sonata has strong appeal, with a delightful central slow movement. Here Rostropovich brings a doleful quality to his playing, which is uplifting. The finale has vitality and verve. Vasso Devetzi is the pianist. Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra Op. 125 is a reworking of the Op.58 Cello concerto which was composed between 1933-38. In its new form, it was dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, who assisted the composer with the refashioning. The cellist premiered the work 18 February 1952 with Sviatoslav Richter conducting. Of the two recordings here, the 1957 with Sargent remains a classic, and I still find it more passionately engaging than the later Ozawa version.

Listening to this wealth of treasures, I’ve made one or two discoveries along the way. Messiaen and Dutilleux lurk in the shadows of Renaud Gagneux’s exotically scored Triptyque. Its panels summon up atmosphere and mystery. The outer movements are vibrant, luminous and lapidary, with the central larger movement less variegated. Rodion Shchedrin’s Sotto Voce Concerto is a more sombre and brooding affair. It's also deeply personal. The Canticle of the Sun by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina was written for and dedicated Rostropovich on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. He premiered it in 1998. It's scored for cello, chamber choir, percussion and celesta, with text based on Saint Francis of Assisi’s ‘Il cantico frate sole’ (Hymn to Brother Sun). It’s highly atmospheric and the textures are ethereal. The choral contributions are especially fine. The Alfred Schnittke disc (CD 24) features three charismatic performers. Gidon Kremer and Yuri Bashmet join the cellist in three works, taped in Paris, live, in 1995. This is music making at it's very best. The other works I would single out for special mention are the Dutilleux and Lutosławski Cello Concertos on CD 7. The Dutilleux ranges from reflective pondering to high-octane drama, whilst the Lutosławski charts a more expressive course. Both are visionary interpretations of rhetorical eloquence.

Thirteen CDs constitute a section devoted to ‘The Russian Years’. These are live airings which span nearly half a century. The earliest is a Prokofiev Cello Sonata from March 1950 with Sviatoslav Richter, the last derives from a series of concerts given ‘Back in Russia’ in 1996 featuring works by Piazzolla, Ustvolskaya and Schnittke. Apparently, Moscow had a habit of taping concerts from its larger halls in the 50s and 60s, and a cache of the cellist’s recordings came to light in the 1990s. Due to the diligence and foresight of Soviet archivists during Rostropovich’s exile from the USSR (1974-1990), when he was regarded persona non grata and his recordings were withdrawn, these valuable recorded documents were miraculously saved.

The bulk of this Russian live assemblage consists of twentieth century music, much of it written for Rostropovich himself. What I particularly found compelling and exciting was that quite a lot of the music doesn’t have rival versions, and I was coming new to it. Several of the recordings are world premieres, the earliest being the Prokofiev Sonata with Richter mentioned above. It's in remarkably fine sound for its age, and has all the freshness and spontaneity of music being created on the wing. There's a CD (30) devoted to world premiere performances of the Shostakovich Cello Concertos; No. 1 with Rozhdestvensky from 1961, and No. 2 set down five years later in 1966 with Svetlanov. This latter, we are told, was given in the presence of the composer on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. The Boris Tchaikovsky disc (31) particularly attracted my attention. Containing a Suite, Partita and Concerto, all three works are receiving their recorded premieres. The Partita is imaginatively scored for cello, piano, harpsichord, electric guitar and percussion. Rostropovich brings a wealth of emotional intensity to the Concerto, and surmounts its technical challenges with admirable authority. The 1967 premiere of the six-movement Yuzo Toyama Concerto is laden with a surfeit of exotic spice. Rostropovich has full measure of its richly nuanced idiom. The yearning intensity of the opening Andante is particularly alluring. The Knipper Concerto-Monologue and Tishchenko Cello Concerto No. 1 both benefit from colourful orchestrations. The Weinberg’s plaintive opening movement has a rarefied expressiveness in the hands of Rostropovich, and it's Jewish-inflected melodies are magically shaped. Rozhdestvensky's sensitive contributions are fully convincing.

So what's left? The set includes DVDs of the Bach Cello Suites and Rostropovich's collaboration with Giulini in the Dvořák and Saint-Saëns Concertos. It's regrettable that Rostropovich waited until his sixties to commit his interpretation of the Bach Suites to disc. Yet, even though his technique isn't at its peak, and intonation is wayward from time to time, his authoritative musicianship shines through. I do find the Basilique Sainte-Madeleine, Vézelay, France somewhat over-resonant though. He discusses each suite before the performance, illustrating his thoughts on the keyboard. There’s the option of subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish. Welcome shots of the abbey and its environs offer added interest. Personally, I much prefer his live Supraphon cycle from the 1955 Prague Spring Festival. He was then aged 28, and his youthful energy, boldness and rhythmic vigour inform these impassioned readings. No one can pretend that the audio quality of this sixty year old mono traversal matches the 1991 EMI version but, with brisker tempi, for the sheer freshness and spontaneity of the live event, this one wins hands down for me.

Whereas the audio recording of the Dvořák and Saint-Saëns Concertos was taped at Abbey Road in April and May 1977, the filmed version was made six months later at the Henry Wood Hall in London. The Rostropovich/Giulini combination is the proverbial dream team. Everything works to perfection. Rostropovich is at his most inspired and delivers readings of penetrating insight and profound musicianship. His rich, burnished tone is ideal for these canvasses. The Dvořák’s slow movement is rapturous, and Rostropovich basks in its heartfelt lyricism. If you consider the Saint-Saëns Concerto a lesser work, listen to this performance, and it will open your eyes to the wealth of ingenuity and invention that saturates the score. Giulini responds sensitively to the music, and is fully in tune both with the cellist’s conception and the ebb and flow of the music. My only reservation is the Henry Wood Hall. It's one of the most unprepossessing venues I've ever come across in a filmed concert, dull and drab, you would have thought the producers could have come up with something more visually pleasing. In mitigation, the camera work is excellent.

CD 40 is a previously unpublished audio interview, from 2006, between the cellist and Jon Tolansky. The subject is Shostakovich, and Rostropovich chats about his relationship with the composer and his music. There are some musical examples given. I have to admit that I found this endeavour disappointing. Struggle as I might, because of the cellist’s broken English, I couldn’t make out a lot of what he was saying. The disc ends with the French poet Louis Aragon (1897-1982) reciting his ‘Chant pour Slava’.

Included with this lavish production is a 200 page, beautifully produced hardback book, printed on high quality paper. The text is in English, German and French, and throughout we are treated to a wealth of fascinating photographs, courtesy of the archive. Many are rare items depicting the cellist, his family, colleagues and documents. The book offers not only a biographical portrait of the artist, but useful lists of works dedicated to and premiered by the cellist, and a chronological timeline of Rostropovich's eventful life. Substantial contributions are made by Elizabeth Wilson, who studied with Rostropovich in Moscow in the 1970s, and who wrote a book Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist, Teacher, Legend (Faber 2007), and Claude Samuel, a former head of Radio France who was closely acquainted with the cellist.

Stephen Greenbank
Complete contents
Camille SAINT-SAËNS: Cello Concerto No.1
Nikolai MYASKOVSKY: Cello Concerto
Philharmonia Orchestra / Malcolm Sargent
Recorded 1956

Antonín DVORÁK:
Cello Concerto
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Adrian Boult
Recorded 1957

Sergei PROKOFIEV: Sinfonia concertante
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Malcolm Sargent
Sergei RACHMANINOV: Vocalise
Alexander Dedyukhin
Recorded 1957

Cello and Piano Recital
Alexander Dedyukhin
Johannes BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No.2
Recorded 1957

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN: Triple Concerto
David Oistrakh • Sviatoslav Richter
Berliner Philharmoniker / Herbert von Karajan
Recorded 1969

Johannes BRAHMS: Double Concerto
David Oistrakh
Cleveland Orchestra / George Szell
Recorded 1969

Henri DUTILLEUX: Tout un monde lointain …
Orchestre de Paris / Serge Baudo
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI: Cello Concerto
Orchestre de Paris / Witold Lutoslawski
Recorded 1974
André JOLIVET: Cello Concerto No.2
Orchestre national de l’ORTF / André Jolivet
Recorded 1969

Cello and Piano Recital
Vasso Devetzi
Richard STRAUSS: Cello Sonata
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN: Variations, Op.66 & WoO 45
Recorded 1974

Richard STRAUSS: Don Quixote
Ulrich Koch
Berliner Philharmoniker / Herbert von Karajan
Recorded 1975

Joseph HAYDN: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Academy of St Martin in the Fields / Iona Brown
Recorded 1975

Robert SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto
Ernest BLOCH: Schelomo
Orchestre national de France / Leonard Bernstein
Recorded 1976

Antonín DVORÁK Cello Concerto
Camille Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No.1
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini
Recorded 1977

Johannes BRAHMS: Double Concerto
Itzhak Perlman
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Bernard Haitink
Recorded 1979

Marcel LANDOWSKI:Un enfant appelle • La Prison
Orchestre national de France / Marcel Landowski
Orchestre national de Lille / Marcel Landowski
Recorded 1982/1983

Antonín DVORÁK: Cello Concerto
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY: Rococo Variations
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Seiji Ozawa
Recorded 1985

Krzysztof PENDERECKI: Cello Concerto No.2
Philharmonia Orchestra / Krzysztof Penderecki
Recorded 1986
Cristóbal Halffter: Cello Concerto No.2
“No queda más que el silencio”
Orchestre national de France / Cristóbal Halffter
Recorded 1985

Sergei Prokofiev Sinfonia concertante
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH:Cello Concerto No.1
London Symphony Orchestra / Seiji Ozawa
Recorded 1987

Darius MILHAUD: Cello Concerto No.1
Arthur HONEGGER: Cello Concerto
Alun HODDINOTT: Noctis Equi
London Symphony Orchestra / Kent Nagano
Recorded 1989
Norbert Moret Cello Concerto
Collegium Musicum de Zurich / Paul Sacher
Recorded 1989

CD 19–20
Johann Sebastian BACH: Cello Suites
Recorded 1991

Baroque Cello Concertos
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra / Hugh Wolff
Recorded 1992

Cello and Organ Recital
Herbert Tachezi
Caix d’Hervelois • Rheinberger • Saint-Saëns
Recorded 1993

Renaud GAGNEUX: Triptyque
Rodion SCHEDRIN: Sotto voce
London Symphony Orchestra / Seiji Ozawa
Recorded 1994

Concerto for Three • String Trio • Minuet
Gidon Kremer • Yuri Bashmet
Moscow Soloists
Recorded 1995

Alexander KNAIFEL: Make me drunk with your kisses
Choral Arts Society of Washington
Washington National Cathedral Choristers
National Cathedral School Lower School Chorus / Norman Scribner
Recorded 1995
David MATTHEWS: Romanza
English Chamber Orchestra / Raymond Leppard
Recorded 1990

Sofia GUBAIDULINA: The Canticle of the Sun
London Voices
London Symphony Orchestra / Ryusuke Numajiri
Recorded 1999
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH: 7 Romances on Verses by Blok
Galina Vishnevskaya • Ulf Hoelscher • Vasso Devetzi
Recorded 1974

Robert SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto • Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY: Rococo Variations
USSR State Symphony Orchestra / Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Recorded 1960
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN: Triple Concerto: I. Allegro, with David Oistrakh • Sviatoslav Richter
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra / Kirill Kondrashin
Recorded 1970

Heitor VILLA-LOBOS: Prelúdio (Modinha), with Cello Ensemble / Mstislav Rostropovich
Recorded 1962
Arthur HONEGGER: Cello Concerto • Ottorino RESPIGHI: Adagio con variazioni
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra / Kirill Kondrashin
Richard STRAUSS Don Quixote, with Lazar Dvoskin • USSR State Symphony Orchestra / Victor Dubrovsky
Recorded 1964

Nikolai MYASKOVSKY: Cello Concerto
Alexander GLAZUNOV:Concerto ballata
USSR State Symphony Orchestra / Evgeny Svetlanov
Sergei Taneyev Canzona, with Alexander Dedyukhin
Recorded 1964

Cello Sonata, with Sviatoslav Richter
Recorded 1950
Sinfonia Concertante, with USSR State Symphony Orchestra / Israel Gusman
Cello Concertino, with Moscow Radio & Television Orchestra / Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Recorded 1964

Cello Concerto No.1, with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra / Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Recorded 1961
Cello Concerto No.2, with USSR State Symphony Orchestra / Evgeny Svetlanov
Recorded 1966

Benjamin BRITTEN:
Cello Suites Nos. 1 & 2
Recorded 1966 (No.1) /1968 (No.2)
Cello Symphony, with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra / Benjamin Britten
Recorded 1964

Cello Suite
Recorded 1961
Cello Concerto, with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra / Kirill Kondrashin
Recorded 1966
Partita, with A. Mamyko • Y. Godin • B. Tchaikovsky • A. Dedyukhin • I. Khovov
Recorded 1967

Aram KHACHATURIAN: Concerto–Rhapsody, with Ana Amintayeva
Recorded 1964
Boris TISCHENKO: Cello Concerto No.1, with A. Tishchenko • Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra / Igor Blazhkov
Recorded 1966
Yuzo Toyama Cello Concerto, with Moscow Radio & Television Orchestra / Yuzo Toyama
Recorded 1967

Lev KNIPPER: Concerto–Monologue
Mieczyslaw WEINBERG: Cello Concerto
USSR State Symphony Orchestra / Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Recorded 1964
Fernando LOPES-GRAÇA: Concerto da camera
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra / Kirill Kondrashin
Recorded 1967

Cello Sonatas with the composers in person
Dmitry KABALEVSKY: Cello Sonata
Recorded 1962
Karen KHACHATURIAN: Cello Sonata
Recorded 1967
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Sonata (date unknown)

Recital of Short Pieces & Transcriptions
Alexander Dedyukhin • Vladimir Yampolsky • Alexei Zybtsev • Ana Amintayeva
Recorded 1960 / date unknown

Nikolai MYASKOVSKY: Cello Sonata
Recorded 1967
Frédéric CHOPIN: Cello Sonata • Introduction and Polonaise brillante (date unknown)
Yuri Shaporin Pieces, Op.25 (date unknown)
Alexander Dedyukhin

Astor PIAZZOLAa Le Grand Tango
Galina USTVOLSKAYA: Grand Duet
Alfred SCHNITTKE: Cello Sonata No.2 • Epilogue to the ballet Peer Gynt
Igor Uriash • Alexei Lubimov
Recorded 1996

Mstislav Rostropovich on
The Last Audio Interview
Recorded 2006

Antonín DVORÁK: Cello Concerto
Camille SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto No.1
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini
Filmed 1977

Johann Sebastian BACH: Cello Suites
Filmed 1991



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