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MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH
MASTERCELLIST: LEGENDARY RECORDINGS 1956-1978
(DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON)

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Mstislav Rostropovich isnít just the worldís greatest living cellist, heís also a crucial link to history, musical and otherwise. His support for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn got him thrown out of the USSR until the fall of Communism. His friendship with eminent composers and his enthusiasm for new music have resulted in the writing of more than a hundred works for him, including important compositions by Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Britten. But in this aptly named two-CD retrospective ó issued by DG to commemorate his 75th birthday ó itís Rostropovich the cellist whoís on display.

The first disc includes his reading of Dvorákís Cello Concerto with Herbert von Karajan, a recording thatís never left the catalogue, and with good reason. The intensity of his playing in the outer movements is formidable, but itís his warm, unforced lyricism (given fantastic support by the Berlin Philharmonic) that steals the show. The Schumann Concerto is a darker, more introspective work, and here Slava and conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky strike a near ideal balance between discipline and nostalgia. Filling out the disc are slighter pieces by Tchaikovsky and Glazunov, the latter featuring the BSO under Ozawa.

The second disc brings recordings from 1956 with the pianist Alexander Dedyukhin. The main attraction is Rostropovichís only complete recording of Rachmaninovís melodically overripe Cello Sonata, in an expansive performance that features amazing depth of tone from Rostropovich and some wonderful playing by Dedyukhin. Chopinís Introduction and Polonaise Brillante gets an intense, energetic reading; itís followed by arrangements of works by Schubert and Schumann making their first appearance on CD. Although these last are gorgeously played, they donít tell us much new about Rostropovichís artistry; it might have been preferable to include one of his collaborations with Serkin or Britten. But whatís here is marvelous, beautifully presented, and an apt birthday present to one of the great musicians of our time.

(Mstislav Rostropovich performs the Dvorák Cello Concerto and the world premiere of Eric Tanguyís Cello Concerto No. 2 with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra this weekend, April 4-6. at Symphony Hall. Call 617-266-1200.)

BY DAVID WEININGER

Issue Date: April 4 - 11, 2002
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