The Strad Issue: January 2006
Musicians: Mstislav Rostropovich (cello/director*) London Symphony Orchestra, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor)
Composer: Haydn, Saint-Saëns, Elgar

Until I was asked to annotate this disc of 1965 concert recordings, I had not heard this particular Rostropovich performance of the Elgar Concerto. I knew his interpretation only from an earlier outing with Svetlanov, where he made an obvious mistake at the very beginning and never quite recovered his poise.

For me, this performance is good enough to make me regret that he did not persevere with the work (he told me that he did not feel he could match Jacqueline du Pré). True, there are one or two moments in the first movement where the orchestra under Rozhdestvensky sounds marginally more assured than the cellist. But there are many more moments that could only have been triggered by a colossal, imaginative soloist.

Those little variations of dynamic and sudden withdrawals of tone which mark out this cellist’s best work are here in abundance; and they are not accompanied by any pulling about of the tempo. The Scherzo’s mood is wonderfully caught and the slow movement is heartfelt, as are the slower sections of the superbly played finale. The audience on the night was clearly swept away and only the churlish would demur.

The Haydn and Saint-Saëns are typical of Rostropovich’s ebullient interpretations. The other day I listened to Piatigorsky’s Saint-Saëns (Testament). It is not very French, and nor is Rostropovich’s view, but we would lose a lot if we left this attractive piece entirely to the Gallic cellists. The sound of all three performances here is quite impressive.