BBC Legends BBCL 4198-2, 67:16 (Distrib. Koch) *****:
We have three splendid examples of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (b. 1927) in concert, of which the Elgar Concerto from 5 July 1965 is one of the few extant inscriptions of a work he came to love but never recorded, deferring to his one-time pupil Jacqueline du Pre’s conception, which he thought brought more poetry to the score. Each of the collaborations with the LSO derives from an intense period of activity, 1 July 1965 (Haydn) to 7 July 1965 (Saint-Saens); and many recall that Rostropovich gave a series of concerts in the early 1960s that featured 31 concertos.
The Haydn Concerto in C is that lucky find of 1961 in the Prague National Library. Rostropovich took to the work immediately upon his tour of Britain, and he asked Benjamin Britten to compose cadenzas for his performances. Directing a reduced LSO from his cello, Rostropovich makes short work of this concerto, playing with spitfire accuracy and no end of voluptuous elan. By the last movement, after having rendered up a stirring Adagio, Rostropovich lets loose his afterburners, and the Allegro molto explodes with jovial good humor. So, too, does the Saint-Saens A Minor, of which Rostropovich made a fine, relatively youthful account with Sir Malcolm Sargent. Another breakneck tempo ties the one-movement work together, though the melody soars without any loss of affecting pathos. Conductor Rozhdestvensky’s healthy spontaneity fits Slava’s exuberance like an old bejeweled glove.
For the kind of towering musical presence Rostropovich can bestow on a score he admires, the Elgar Concerto provides a fine vehicle. Rostropovich manages to imbue the music with flair, vigor, and girth. The word “sizzles” to describe the Allegro molto (scherzo) movement needs more z’s. The scale and innate nobility of the Adagio makes the cellist’s veneration of du Pre’s version (taped with Barbirolli for EMI one month after Rostropovich’s concert) that much more astonishing. Edwardian assertiveness reigns for the last movement, a combination of lyricism and cocky power. The audience erupts in unabashed waves of applause at the conclusion of every piece. Another addition to the Best of the Year List, historical-style.
— Gary Lemco