The Myaskovsky Cello Concerto remains a private pleasure for the US cellist, whose memories of Rostropovich remain an inspiration half a century later
I’ve never performed the Cello Concerto by Nikolai Myaskovsky in public, but for me it’s still one of the most important pieces in the repertoire. There’s a stack of about 50 works I love to pull out and play over and over, just for myself, and if I don’t feel like playing the cello I’ll sit at the piano and play the orchestral reduction, feeling the harmonies under my fingers.
The Myaskovsky is a piece that really captures the soul of Russia; it was composed in 1944-45 during the darkest days of World War II, and although it’s a sombre piece in C minor there’s a feeling of hope that permeates the whole work. In just the fourth bar of the solo part, there’s an A natural that’s both surprising and beautiful – obviously it’s not in the C minor key, and it becomes a transcendent moment, as if encapsulating the acceptance of Russian living conditions at the end of the war.
The concerto is littered with those moments, so it gives an impression of the sun shining through clouds. Every time I play it I have this haunting, mesmerising experience, and it really needs to be heard by more people.
Listening to the concerto also takes me back to my experience studying with Mstislav Rostropovich. I was his first American student…
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