Mstislav Rostropovich

Cello

Schubert Club Performances:

  • November 4, 1962
  • November 29, 1981
  • February 11, 1994

Mstislav Rostropovich

One of the greatest cellists of all time, Mstislav Rostropovich performed and recorded virtually the entire repertoire for his instrument, including more works that he himself commissioned than any other cellist. While still living in the Soviet Union, he developed working relationships with the two outstanding Russian composers of the era – Prokofiev and Shostakovich – as well as with leading instrumentalists like pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Starting in 1955, the “Thaw” that followed Stalin’s death allowed Soviet artists like Rostropovich and Richter to travel to the West. Here they are performing Beethoven’s late C major Cello Sonata in Edinburgh:

The most important artistic partnership Rostropovich forged in the West was with Benjamin Britten, who heard him give the London premiere of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto in 1960 and was bowled over by what he called “a new way of playing the cello, almost a new, vital way of playing music”. The two became close friends and Britten composed numerous works for Rostropovich. They also performed and recorded extensively together, with Britten accompanying as either pianist or conductor:

Although there is no film of Rostropovich performing Britten’s music, here is their 1962 studio recording of the Cello Sonata, which was on the program of his first Schubert Club recital the following year:

Rostropovich came into conflict with the Soviet authorities in 1969 for sheltering the dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He and his wife, the great soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (Schubert Club recital: 1967), were forbidden to travel abroad for five years. Afterwards his continued criticism of the regime’s restrictions on cultural freedom led to the loss of his citizenship, and he eventually settled with his family in the USA. In this BBC studio performance of the first of two cello concertos composed for him by Shostakovich (“the most important man in my life, after my father”), Rostropovich is accompanied by Charles Groves conducting the London Symphony Orchestra:

Rostropovich played the Debussy Cello Sonata in his second and third Schubert Club appearances. Here is his benchmark 1962 studio recording with Benjamin Britten at the piano:

 

No tribute to this artist would be complete without his Bach, which he offered on his first and last appearances in St. Paul. Throughout his career he played the solo suites to great acclaim, but he chose not to record them until 1991, at the abbey church in Vézelay, France, where the performances were also filmed. This is Suite No. 5 in C minor, which he would play three years later in his final Schubert Club recital:

And this is a 1977 film of Rostropovich performing the work he loved best, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Carlo Maria Giulini conducts the London Philharmonic:

Four years after Rostropovich’s death in 2007, the BBC made this comprehensive 90-minute documentary bio,The Genius of the Cello. Essential viewing.

Artist Note by Richard Evidon

From the Schubert Club Archive:

Mstislav Rostropovich 1963 Program

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1963 newspaper photo

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1963 concert review

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1963 newspaper photo

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1963 season preview

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1981 season poster

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1981 concert review

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