Concerto for Cellist (I): Rostropovich

The music of Eastern Europe that we have shared with our readers over the past month is also related to the composers of the region. In addition to this, there are many other outstanding cello players in Eastern Europe, perhaps one of them being Mstislav Rostropovich.

Rostropovich was born in Baku, in the former Soviet Union, between Central Asia and Eastern Europe. His parents were also musicians and he studied cello, piano and conducting from an early age. Rostropovich, who at the age of 15 gave public performances on the cello and was immediately hailed as one of the most promising performers in the world, went on to enter the Moscow Conservatory of Music under his father’s tutelage and gained a reputation in the West as well, and after fleeing the Soviet Union and moving to the United States in the early 1970s, he was given more opportunities to perform around the world.

A search of Rostropovich’s past recordings reveals that many of them also feature the orchestra playing songs such as Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor (Op. 104). This is the last of Dvořák’s solo concerto works to focus on a single instrument. After writing a brief, incomplete Cello Concerto in A major in his early years, Dvořák resisted the request of his close friend Hanuš Wihan, another cello player, to complete another full cello concerto. However, in 1894 he was unexpectedly inspired by a new cello concerto by fellow Conservatoire member Victor Herbert to write this melodic, romantic and dramatic work. The cello is a difficult piece, beginning with a soloist who plays triple-stopped chords with vigour in a quasi improvised style, moving between octaves, complemented by double stops and empty string pizzicato. Watching Rostropovich’s playing, it is clear that he has a supple command of all these techniques.

In Rostropovich’s version of the concerto, the audience is able to feel the staccato and intonation of the cello’s sound as he breathes, and even though they are not there to see it, they can still feel his individuality off-screen. Even though they were not watching the performance live, they could still feel the charm of his personal performance off-screen.

This is perhaps why the concerto has remained so popular with musicians and audiences alike over the years – its melodic variety, the scope for the solo instrument to play, and the orchestra’s collaboration to create an emotionally rich movement. Even in the oldest recordings, the musical power behind the instruments remains the same.

Reference/Photo Source: Dvorák – Concerto in B minor Op. 104 / Mstislav Rostropovich


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