Rostropovich – A Romantic Portrait  – DVORAK/SCHUMANN/TCHAIKOVSKY – Mstislav Rostropovich, cello – Royal Philharmonic / Sir Adrian Boult/ Leningrad Philharmonic / Gennady Rozhdestvensky – Praga Digitals stereo SACD PRD/DSD 350112 71:56 (7/10/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

This SACD contains vintage analog stereo recordings from the Praga Digitals vault that sound just fine in high resolution. [But not as much enhanced from the standard CD layer as more modern digital recordings or high quality analog tapes…Ed.]

Rostropovich was surely one of the great cellists of this or any generation. He premiered more than 100 pieces before he died in 2007. He was also renowned for his efforts in human rights, and he endured a great deal of harassment from the Soviet regime.

The disc opens with the sublime Cello Concerto B minor by Dvorak. Recorded in 1957 with with the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, the performance here is stunning. I’ve always loved this piece, and have several performances on CD. The sonics here are really excellent, not even having to allow for the age of the recording. The venue was the famed Abbey Road Studios, a wonderful match for this music.

Next is Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, with Rostropovich joined by the Leningrad Philharmonic, conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. The recording is sourced from analog tapes from 1960 done at Wembley Town Hall in London. The performance here is fine, but the recording is a bit harsh when the full orchestra enters, sounding especially brittle in the highs. It’s not a horrible recording by any means, but it isn’t as good as the Dvorak.

The final work is Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso, written in 1887 in a single week. It’s a sober composition, and Rostropovich is at the top of his usual game. The recording, done in 1964 in Moscow at the Conservatory Great Hall is a good one, and this rendering is cleaner in sound that the Schumann.

Don’t let the age of these recordings put you off. It’s the performance that counts, and this SACD most likely fully captures the sounds of the original master tapes. It’s always a thrill to hear the great Rostropovich play. Recommended!

—Mel Martin