Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mstislav Rostropovich 1927-2007

Tortelier was the cellist of choice in my household when I was small, so it wasn't until later that I discovered Rostropovich, which coincided with my discovering Shostakovich. Rummaging through my parents' LPs, I discovered Slava's recording of Shostakovich's First Concerto, and it made an immediate impression, not just the music, but the extraordinary personality of the soloist that leapt out of the speakers, a boisterous, extrovert earthiness that contrasted sharply with Tortelier's Gallic nobility. I was hooked, and began to seek out any recordings of his I could find, and my admiration grew as I discovered just how much of the cello literature of the past 60 years came into being through and for him. His status as a man without nationhood after his exile from Russia seemed the noblest of stances, and he came to stand for much more than being simply a very fine musician.

Of course, it's very easy when someone has just died to paint them in saintly colours, and it would be dishonest to deny that he was far from flawless as a man. And I have to say I thought he was an awful conductor. But he opened up worlds for me as a child, and I don't see that anyone could hear a few bars of his performances of the Beethoven cello sonatas without being struck by the sense of being in the presence of a great, generous and very human spirit.

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