REVIEW - Dvořák Concerto (1953 UK LP issue)
This is a performance in which the soloist emphasises the lyrical side of the work and dwells yearningly on its lovely tunes in a way that is poignant and moving. His first entry is not at all, as in the Casals recording, that of a hero, and that particular note is lacking throughout. It is the orchestra, in fact, that supplies vitality all the way through. Mr. Rostropovich commands a beautiful singing tone and I prefer his performance to that of Zara Nelsova on Decca LXT2727, and also Talich's view of the score to that of Kripps : but the Fournier, Kubelik, Philharmonia, discs (H.M.V. DB6887-9 I ) and the historic Casals recording with the Czech Philharmonic and George Szell remain unchallenged. The recording of the orchestra is rather shallow, of the 'cello admirable, but the last movement, on my copy, had a gritty surface. The Midday Witch, on the fourth side, is disappointing. The eerie atmosphere Dvofak has contrived seems to be lacking and the recording is poor, especially of the string section.
A.R. - The Gramophone, May 1953 (link)
REVIEW - Miaskovsky Concerto (1957 UK LP issue - exerpt)
On this record Rostropovich declares himself an outstanding 'cellist, with a poetry of expression matching an infallible technique. He is fortunate, too, in having the advantage of a perfectly integrated Philharmonia accompaniment, very well recorded into the bargain.
So the Miaskovsky concerto makes an auspicious entry to the catalogues. Miaskovsky's principal reputation is perhaps as the composer of an apparently infinite number of symphonies (even after his death in 1950 there seemed to be some doubt about the final count); and that reputation is better known to English audiences than his actual music. This won great success in Russia; but the placid and unenquiring temperament that must have allowed Miaskovsky to spend a long life without ever passing the borders of that country has found too much reflection in his music for the Russian success to be repeated to any extent elsewhere.
A 'cello concerto, however, can be very many worse things than placid and unenquiring; and this one adds to those qualities a very real beauty and a very real appreciation of the 'cello's individual genius. Written fifty years earlier, when the idiom would have been only slightly old-fashioned, I do believe this concerto could have had a tremendous European success; produced as it is, to-day, I believe it can still give a very great deal of pleasure to listeners ready to enjoy qualities not directly concerned with any up-to-dateness of idiom. And, as I have suggested, it is most beautifully performed.
... I would consider long before rejecting Rostropovich's eloquent advocacy of the Miaskovsky; music can suffer from many worse disasters than merely an old-fashioned idiom. M.M.
M. M. - The Gramophone, February 1957 (link)
Rostropovich's 1952 Prague recording of the Dvořák Cello Concerto is one the earliest of what was to become the cellist's "signature tune" - to the extent that he demanded a significantly higher fee for playing any concert which included the work. Previous issues of this Supraphon recording have suffered a harshness of tone which XR remastering has neutralised, whilst bringing out the full tone of both soloist and orchestra. To be able to hear such a fine soloist in this work, playing with the Czech Philharmonic whilst Talich was at his peak is a real pleasure.
I have worked to try as much as possible to balance the tonal qualities of the earlier recording to match the technically superior British 1956 Miaskovsky recording - a work previously unknown to me but a pleasure to become acquainted with.
Mtislav Rostropovitch is one of the new generation of Soviet virtuosi who have in recent years excited the interest of the western world. Rostropovitch was born at Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1927 and received his early training from his father, Leopold Rostropovitch, himself a brilliant 'cellist. In 1943 he entered the Moscow Conservatoire and studied with Professor Semeon Kozolupov. He made rapid progress and graduated with distinction in three years. He continued his studies as a post-graduate student and completed his course in 1948.
Before leaving the Conservatoire he had already begun to make his appearance as a concert artist. He appeared with the well-known artists Emil Gilels, Svyatoslav Richter and Leonid Kogan. Rostropovitch competed in a number of musical events and was awarded first place at the All-Union Contest in Moscow in 1945, the International Festival of Youth and Students in Prague in 1947 and in Budapest in 1949, and the International Contest for the Hanus Vigan Prize in Prague in 1950. He was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1951.
Rostropovitch is a versatile musician, a composer and a gifted pianist. His repertoire includes every work in the 'cello repertoire, the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas, the concertos of Tartini, Haydn, Dvorak, Lalo, Saint-Saens and the Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme. His playing is distinguished by its restraint and nobility and the exceptional virtuosity of his technique.
notes from Wikipedia
Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich, KBE (Russian: Мстисла́в Леопо́льдович Ростропо́вич, Mstislav Leopol'dovič Rostropovič, pronounced [rəstrɐˈpɔvʲɪtɕ]; March 27, 1927 – April 27, 2007), known to close friends as Slava, was a Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor. He was married to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. He is widely considered to have been the greatest cellist of the second half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest of all time. In addition to his outstanding interpretations and technique, he was well known for both inspiring and commissioning new works which enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since. He gave the premieres of over 100 pieces, forming long-standing friendships and artistic partnerships with composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and especially Benjamin Britten.
Rostropovich was internationally recognized as a staunch advocate of human rights, and was awarded the 1974 Award of the International League of Human Rights.
Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, USSR, to ethnic Russian parents who had moved from Orenburg. His father, Leopold Vitoldovich Rostropovich, was also partly of Belarusian-Polish noble descent. That part of his family bore the Bogorya coat of arms, which was located at the family palace in Skotniki, Masovian Voivodeship. He grew up in Baku and spent his youth there. During World War II his family moved back to Orenburg and then in 1943 to Moscow.
At the age of four, Rostropovich learned the piano with his mother, Sofiya Nikolaevna Fedotova, a talented pianist. He began the cello at the age of 10 with his father, who was a renowned cellist and former student of Pau Casals.
In 1943, at the age of 16, he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied cello, piano, conducting and composition. His teachers included Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1945 he came to prominence as a cellist when he won the gold medal in the first ever Soviet Union competition for young musicians. He graduated from the Conservatory in 1948, and became professor of cello there in 1956.
Rostropovich gave his first cello concert in 1942. He won first prize at the international Music Awards of Prague and Budapest in 1947, 1949 and 1950. In 1950, at the age of 23 he was awarded what was then considered the highest distinction in the Soviet Union, the Stalin Prize. At that time, Rostropovich was already well known in his country and while actively pursuing his solo career, he taught at the Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) Conservatory and the Moscow Conservatory. In 1955, he married Galina Vishnevskaya, a leading soprano at the Bolshoi Theatre.
Rostropovich had working relationships with Soviet composers of the era. In 1949 Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119, for the 22-year old Rostropovich, who gave the first performance in 1950, with Sviatoslav Richter. Prokofiev also dedicated his Sinfonia Concertante for cello to him; this was premiered in 1952. Rostropovich and Dmitry Kabalevsky completed Prokofiev's Cello Concertino after the composer's death. Dmitri Shostakovich wrote both his first and second cello concertos for Rostropovich, who also gave their first performances.
His international career started in 1963 in the Conservatoire of Liège (with Kirill Kondrashin) and in 1964 in West Germany. Rostropovich went on several tours in Western Europe and met several composers, including Benjamin Britten. Britten dedicated his Cello Sonata, three Solo Suites, and his Cello Symphony to Rostropovich, who gave their first performances, and the two had an obviously special affinity - Rostropovich's family described him as "always smiling" when discussing "Ben", and on his death bed he was said to have expressed no fear as he and Britten would, he believed, be reunited in Heaven. Britten was also renowned as a piano accompanist and together they recorded, among other works, Schubert's Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor D.821. Even on his deathbed his daughter claimed that this recording moved her father to tears of joy.
Rostropovich took private lessons in conducting with Leo Ginzburg, and first conducted in public in Gorky in November 1962, performing the four entractes from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and Shostakovich's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death with Vishnevskaya singing. In 1967, at the invitation of the Bolshoi Theatre's director Mikhail Chulaki, he conducted Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin at the Bolshoi, thus letting forth his passion for both the role of conductor and the opera.
Proms on August 21, 1968
Rostropovich played at The Proms on the night of August 21, 1968. He played with the Soviet State Symphony Orchestra and it was the orchestra's debut performance at the Proms. The programme featured Czech composer Antonín Dvořák's Cello Concerto and was the same day that Russians invaded Czechoslovakia to put an end to Alexander Dubček's Prague Spring. After the performance, which had been preceded by heckling and demonstrations, the orchestra and soloist were cheered by the Proms audience. Rostropovich stood and held aloft the conductor's score of the Dvořák as a gesture of solidarity for the composer's homeland and the city of Prague, a place he loved.
As an encore he played Bach's haunting sarabande no. iv from Suite 2 in D minor BWV 1008, a piece which he said he like to offer to those who were sad.
Rostropovich fought for art without borders, freedom of speech, and democratic values, resulting in harassment from the Soviet regime. An early example was in 1948, when he was a student at the Moscow Conservatory. In response to the 10 February 1948 decree on so-called 'formalist' composers, his teacher Dmitri Shostakovich was dismissed from his professorships in Leningrad and Moscow; the then 21-year-old Rostropovich quit the conservatory, dropping out in protest. In 1970, Rostropovich sheltered Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who otherwise would have had nowhere to go, in his own home. His friendship with Solzhenitsyn and his support for dissidents led to official disgrace in the early 1970s. As a result, Rostropovich was restricted from foreign touring, as was his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and his appearances performing in Moscow were curtailed, as increasingly was his appearances in such major cities as Leningrad and Kiev.
Rostropovich left the Soviet Union in 1974 with his wife and children and settled in the United States. He was banned from several musical ensembles in his homeland, and his Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1978 because of his public opposition to the Soviet Union's restriction of cultural freedom. He would not return to the Soviet Union until 1990.
From 1977 until 1994, he was musical director and conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, while still performing with some of the most famous musicians such as Martha Argerich, Sviatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz. He was also the director and founder of the Rostropovich Music Festival and was a regular performer at the Aldeburgh Festival in the UK.
His impromptu performance during the fall of the Berlin Wall as events unfolded was reported throughout the world. His Soviet citizenship was restored in 1990, although he and his family had already become American citizens.
When in August 1991 news footage was broadcast of tanks in the streets of Moscow Rostropovich responded with a characteristically brave, impetuous and patriotic gesture: he bought a plane ticket to Japan via Moscow, talked his way out of the airport at Moscow and went to join Boris Yeltsin in the hope that his fame might make some difference to the chance of tanks moving in.
In modern Russia, Rostropovich was welcomed by high officials. Having supported Yeltsin during the 1993 constitutional crisis (he also conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in Red Square at the height of the crackdown), and was also on friendly terms with Vladimir Putin.
In 1993 he was instrumental in the foundation of the Kronberg Academy and was a patron until his death. He commissioned Rodion Shchedrin to compose the opera Lolita and conducted its premiere in 1994 at the Royal Swedish Opera.
Rostropovich received many international awards, including the French Legion of Honor and honorary doctorates from many international universities. He was an activist, fighting for freedom of expression in art and politics. An ambassador for the UNESCO, he supported many educational and cultural projects. Rostropovich performed several times in Madrid and was a close friend of Queen Sofía of Spain.
Rostropovich and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya founded the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Foundation, a publicly-supported non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C., in 1991 to improve the health and future of children in the former Soviet Union. The Rostropovich Home Museum opened on March 4, 2002, in Baku. Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya visited Azerbaijan occasionally. Rostropovich also presented cello master classes at the Azerbaijan State Conservatory.
Together they formed a valuable art collection. In September 2007, when it was slated to be sold at auction by Sotheby's in London and dispersed, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov stepped forward and negotiated the purchase of all 450 lots, in order to keep the collection together and bring it to Russia as a memorial to the great cellist's memory. Christie's reported that the buyer paid a "substantially higher" sum than the £20 million pre-sale estimate
In 2006, he was featured in Alexander Sokurov's documentary Elegy of a life: Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya.
His instruments included the 1711 Duport Stradivarius, a Storioni on which he made most of his recordings and a Peter Guarneri of Venice.
Rostropovich's health declined in 2006, with the Chicago Tribune reporting rumors of unspecified surgery in Geneva and later treatment for what was reported as an aggravated ulcer. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Rostropovich to discuss details of a celebration the Kremlin was planning for March 27, 2007, Rostropovich's 80th birthday. Rostropovich attended the celebration but was reportedly in frail health.
Though Rostropovich's last home was in Paris, he maintained residences in Moscow, St. Petersburg, London, Lausanne, and Jordanville, New York. Rostropovich was admitted to a Paris hospital at the end of January 2007, but then decided to fly to Moscow, where he had been receiving care. On February 6, 2007 the 79-year-old Rostropovich was admitted to a hospital in Moscow. "He is just feeling unwell", Natalya Dolezhale, Rostropovich's secretary in Moscow, said. Asked if there was serious cause for concern about his health she said: "No, right now there is no cause whatsoever." She refused to specify the nature of his illness. The Kremlin said that President Vladimir Putin had visited the musician on Monday in the hospital, which prompted speculation that he was in a serious condition. Dolezhale said the visit was to discuss arrangements for marking Rostropovich's 80th birthday. On March 27, 2007, the Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement praising Rostropovich.
He re-entered the Blokhim Cancer Institute on April 7, 2007, where he was treated for intestinal cancer. He died on April 27, 2007.
On April 28, Rostropovich's body lay in an open coffin at the Moscow Conservatory, where he once studied as a teenager, and was then moved to the Church of Christ the Saviour. Thousands of mourners, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, bade farewell. Spain's Queen Sofia, French first lady Bernadette Chirac and President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan, where Rostropovich was born, as well as Naina Yeltsina, the widow of Boris Yeltsin, were among those in attendance at the funeral on April 29. Rostropovich was then buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, the same cemetery where his friend Boris Yeltsin was buried four days earlier.
Rostropovich was a huge influence on the younger generation of cellists. Many have openly acknowledged their debt to his example. In the Daily Telegraph, Julian Lloyd Webber called him "probably the greatest cellist of all time."
Rostropovich either commissioned or was the recipient of compositions by many composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten, Henri Dutilleux, Olivier Messiaen, Witold Lutosławski, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Leonard Bernstein, Alfred Schnittke, Aram Khachaturian, Ástor Piazzolla, Sofia Gubaidulina, Arthur Bliss and Lopes Graça. His commissions of new works enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since.
He was the first performer of 117 pieces, and is well known for his interpretations of Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor and Haydn's cello concerti in C and D, Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto and the two cello concerti of Shostakovich. Between 1997 and 2001 he was intimately involved in the development and testing of the BACH.Bow, a curved bow designed by the cellist Michael Bach. In 2001 he invited Michael Bach for a presentation of his BACH.Bow to Paris (7ème Concours de violoncelle Rostropovitch). In July 2011, the city of Moscow announced plans to erect a statue of Rostropovich in a central square.
He was also a notably generous spirit. Seiji Ozawa relates an anecdote: on hearing of the death of the baby daughter of his friend the sumo wrestler Chiyonofuji Slava flew unannounced to Tokyo, took a 1 1/2 hour cab ride to Chiyonofuji's house and played his Bach sarabande outside, as his gesture of sympathy - then got back in the taxi and returned to the airport to fly back to Europe.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mstislav_Rostropovich