Rostropovich, cello = R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35; HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major – Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Harry Danks, viola/Hugh Maguire, violin/ BBC Symphony/Sir Malcolm Sargent/London Symphony Orchestra (Haydn) – BBC Legends

by | Oct 27, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Rostropovich, cello = R. STRAUSS: Don Quixote, Op. 35; HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major – Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Harry Danks, viola/Hugh Maguire, violin/ BBC Symphony/Sir Malcolm Sargent/London Symphony Orchestra (Haydn)

BBC Legends BBCL 4240-2,  65:33 [Distr. by Koch] ****:

The BBC Proms concert of 25 August 1964 at Royal Festival Hall brings us a collaboration between Russian cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) and Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967), along with gifted members of the BBC orchestra. Sargent had led Gregor Piatagorsky in this splashy piece back in the 1930’s; and his recent friendship with Rostropovich, beginning in 1956, inevitably led to their desire to perform the piece, long proscribed in Soviet Russia as decadent.

Rostropovich gives a leisurely, unhurried rendition of Cervantes’ errant knight, fighting unnecessary battles for the best of reasons. Viola Harry Danks (1912-2000) plies the part of Sancho Panza with fervor and hearty intonation. We plod along until just after the battle with the sheep, when in the dialogue between the two principals, Variation IV, the magic happens. Suddenly, Sargent lights up the orchestra with the Strauss panoply of yearning colors, and the Divine becomes palpable in Quixote’s vision. Another delightful episode requiring special effects occurs at Variation VII, the Ride through the Air, in which the wind machine hurls us into dizzying acrobatics. Rostropovich obviously relishes his extended part, often producing a huge, grumbling bass tone or a strident pizzicato. His legato, as in The Knight’s Vigil, sings a resonant, oaken or mahogany cantilena. The Finale: Don Quixote’s Death emerges like Saint-Saens’ The Swan, a heart-breaking paean to all human aspiration, to that “beautiful madness” of which Edmund Purdom spoke to Michael Wilding in The Egyptian.

The Haydn D Major Concerto (1 July 1965) has Rostropovich leading the reduced-ensemble LSO from his own cello. Rostropovich uses the updated edition of the score, not the grim patchwork from Gevaert. The first movement Allegro moderato opens stately and bright, the Mannheim Rockets in glorious flight. Rostropovich’s plaintive tone immediately makes us realize why he and Menuhin made such striking, complementary artists. Again, a leisurely security reigns over the exposition, a pastoral scene even when the musical fur flies. The various cello scales and runs become object lessons in themselves. Gorgeous sounds from the middle section, often in direct quotation of Boccherini. The cadenza coaxes more virtuosity from Slava, in the form of double stops, trills, and rapid shifts of register. An Adagio of exalted beauty leads to the buoyant Rondo, as gracious as it is playful, the harmonics and swirling trills poured from some cello form of musical cornucopia. An explosion of audience appreciates tells us this bounty did not fall in the desert.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews