Rostropovich's command of his instrument was extraordinary
Shostakovich Cello Concerto no.1 in E flat major
Miaskovsky Cello Concerto in C minor op.66
Mstislav Rostropovich, USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Yevgeny Svetlanov
I first heard Rostropovich when I was twelve, when he played the Dvořák Cello Concerto at London’s Royal Festival Hall. I still consider him the greatest cellist I’ve ever seen – his command of the instrument was extraordinary and I couldn’t explain the way he overcame certain technical challenges. Years later I told him that and he replied that he didn’t understand how he did some of those technical things either! In these live recordings, from 1964 and 1966 respectively, he is performing with Yevgeny Svetlanov – it’s well known that the two of them didn’t get on, which makes the musicality and the technical perfection of Slava’s playing even more incredible.
Lalo Cello Concerto in D minor
Pierre Fournier, Lamoureux Orchestra/Jean Martinon
This was one of the first cello recordings I heard, and I think it’s still one of the best recordings of the Lalo Concerto. I studied with Fournier in 1973 and we worked on it together: the last movement has lots of detailed instructions to the soloist, and Fournier told me, ‘I ignore many of these because they don’t work – as in the Elgar Concerto.’ It’s true that the Lalo last movement is overmarked, but I completely disagreed about the Elgar – the composer knew exactly what he wanted.
Mozart Viola Quintet in G minor K516
William Primrose, Griller Quartet
I studied chamber music with Sidney Griller and learnt a great deal from him. Unlike my cello teachers, he went into fantastic detail regarding everything from vibrato to slides and exact bowings. Some of his pupils found this difficult but I found it very inspiring, and his chamber music lessons were a revelation. On this irreplaceable recording the playing of both the Griller Quartet and violist William Primrose is phenomenal.
Elgar Violin Concerto
Yehudi Menuhin, London Symphony Orchestra/Edward Elgar
Menuhin was only 15 when he made this, and it remains one of the all-time recording classics. He had that sort of elastic rubato that is very important for this music, and which I think almost disappeared for a time – performances became more predictable, somehow, though maybe it’s coming back now. Years after this recording was made, I recorded the Cello Concerto with Menuhin conducting. It was an important link for me: as a string player himself, Menuhin would follow everything I did, and I could sense that kind of spontaneity he had for the Elgarian rubatos.
Stéphane Grappelli (violin) Django Reinhardt (guitar)
There’s a wonderful freedom in Grappelli’s playing that I learnt from when we performed together: it was a privilege to play with him. There are things like his slurred bowing, which I had to learn very quickly when I recorded Variations in 1978 – I find that a lot of classical musicians take too many bows in non-classical music. It takes an intricate combination of bowing and fingering to make jazz sound natural.
Photo: Simon Fowler