Gennady Rozhdestvensky;  Mstislav Rostropovich  (BBC Legends 4143)
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Gennady Rozhdestvensky;  Mstislav Rostropovich  (BBC Legends 4143)
C0082. GENNADY ROZHDESTVENSKY Cond. Leningrad Phil.: Symphony #4 in f (Tschaikowsky), Live Performance, 9 Sept., 1971, Royal Albert Hall, London; w. MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH : Cello Concerto #1 in E-flat (Shostakovich), Live Performance, 9 Sept., 1960, Edinburgh. (England) BBC Legends Stereo / Mono 4143. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 684911414325


“What might be seen as perhaps a curious coupling is vindicated by the searing intensity of both performances. Rozhdestvensky’s affinity with the sheer energy of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony is here viscerally documented in a performance that shows just what the Leningraders are made of.

No doubt as to venue, either, with acres of ‘space’ around Tchaikovsky’s fateful fanfares that blaze fiercely before Rozhdestvensky calms things down to the most suspenseful silence. And how miraculously the strings creep in at 1’25. Yet the momentum is not disturbed a jot. The miracle of this performance is that within Rozhdestvensky’s far-sighted interpretative approach, there is so much to enjoy from the orchestra’s individual players. Try the clarinet at 5’06, which positively drips with character. Rozhdestvensky is not afraid to take us into the world of the ballet at times; he is even less afraid to drag us out of that cozy place. Brass play preternaturally together, and have you ever heard the like of the trombones at 12’09, I wonder? Thunderous and ominous, they seem to come from a world beyond and are enough to instill fear into the heart of the most ardent anti-Tchaikovskian. Rozhdestvensky consistently sheds new light on orchestral shadings; only at the end of this first movement is there a suspicion that the brass are pushing the conductor forwards, not the other way around (17’33 onwards).

There is a goodly gap between the movements (some seventeen seconds), but it could be argued it is a necessarily long one after the Russified Sturm und Drang of the massive opening statement. The acidic oboe that opens the ‘Andantino in modo di canzone’ is entirely characteristic of its geographic origin. It is what happens when it finishes that is really interesting, however, and the strings take the melody. Rozhdestvensky, however, foregrounds the clarinet counter-melody (in Schoenbergian terminology, the melody, or Hauptstimme, becomes the Nebenstimme). The result is, unpredictably, almost unutterably beautiful.

Far from seeing this movement as an interlude, Rozhdestvensky thinks more in monumental terms, his pacing providing gripping results towards the end. All of which contrasts with the third movement which really is a visitor from the Bolshoi Ballet, with woodwind tripping along as gaily as can be (and listen to just how nimble that famous piccolo line is at 2’33-2’35!).

The finale begins with an explosion of light and, in terms of sheer voltage, is as electric as the best of them. There is a sag in momentum around 2’40, though, where brass are not as bullet-like as the score would seem to demand. Yet this is high-octane Tchaikovsky and the Prommers’ screams and yells at the very end (which begin before the music has finished) are for once justified.

Rostropovich exudes supreme confidence right from the very first four-note statement of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto. Rozhdestvensky accompanies perfectly. He is right there with his soloist, always (and listen to the impatience of the string figures around the one minute mark!). Spiky woodwind, with very cuttingly-toned clarinet around 2’25, overlay an acidic edge to proceedings. The solo horn with Russian vibrato is excellent, centering every note in the important horn/solo cello duet. Rostropovich saws away enthusiastically in his ‘accompaniment’, taking over the high melodic line with searing intensity.

Rostropovich converts his cello into a sort of stringed voice in the Moderato (the concerto’s longest movement), bringing a real sense of stillness, and some icy harmonics towards the end. The Cadenza is gripping from first note to last; even more so than on the DVD of the same cellist in this work, with the London Symphony Orchestra under Charles Groves on EMI Classic Archive DVA4901209. Marvellously raw and energetic woodwind at the beginning of the finale set in motion a helter-skelter ride made all the more nightmarish by a shrieking piccolo. Rozhdestvensky lays the orchestral canvas bare here, and the effect is most disturbing. Perhaps the very ending lacks the last ounce of climactic bite, but nevertheless this is a memorable account.

This remarkable disc will bring many rewards. Repeated listening has already brought new insight to the fore each time.”

- Colin Clarke, MusicWebInternational

"The Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky, who championed an eclectic array of music, including works by Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina at a time when the Soviet establishment frowned on those composers, was widely admired for the emotional intensity and spontaneity of his performances, recorded some 786 works, ranging from repertory staples to neglected music. He inspired many composers, including Ms. Gubaidulina, who created an orchestral work for him.

At the height of the Cold War, Mr. Rozhdestvensky was one of the elite Soviet artists permitted to tour abroad. In 1962 at the Edinburgh Festival he conducted the first performances in the West of Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 12, with the composer in the audience.

He was also one of the most prominent conductors in Russia. As the chief conductor of the State Symphony Orchestra of the Soviet Ministry of Culture, he recorded the complete symphonies of Shostakovich, Glazunov, Prokofiev and Bruckner. He was also the principal conductor of the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra for more than a decade.

Yet he struggled within the confines of the Soviet system, saying: 'It is too difficult for me to work with such a bureaucratic machine. It interferes with my creativity and with my art'.

In 1974, Mr. Rozhdestvensky took a risk by conducting Schnittke's vast, exuberant and polystylistic Symphony #1, giving the premiere in Gorky instead of Moscow to avoid provoking the authorities. He also led world premieres of music by composers including Edison Denisov, Rodion Shchedrin, John Tavener and championed the work of many others, including Prokofiev and the Georgian composer Giya Kancheli.

Mr. Rozhdestvensky led the first complete staging of Prokofiev's opera WAR AND PEACE in 1959. In 1974 he conducted the first Soviet revival of Shostakovich's THE NOSE, which had not been performed since 1930, and conducted the Russian premiere of Britten's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in 1965. He also introduced Soviet audiences to the music of Hindemith, Poulenc, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Orff, among others.

Gennady Nikolayevich Anosov was born on May 4, 1931, to a musical family. His father, Nikolai Anosov, was a conductor and professor at the Moscow Conservatory and his mother, Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya, was a soprano. He used his mother's name, in its masculine form, professionally to avoid the appearance of nepotism, according to the Bolshoi Theater website.

At the Moscow Conservatory he studied piano with Lev Oborin and conducting with his father.

He made his debut as a conductor leading the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in Tchaikovsky's SLEEPING BEAUTY while still a student, inaugurating a long association with the Bolshoi, where he was principal conductor from 1964 to 1970. Mr. Rozhdestvensky, who could be prickly, was appointed the ballet and opera company's artistic director in 2000 but resigned the next year after conducting the original version of Prokofiev's opera THE GAMBLER because of, among other issues, what he perceived to be unfair treatment by Moscow journalists.

He made his debut at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, in 1970 with Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV and also conducted at La Scala and the Paris Opera. He had stints as chief conductor at the Vienna Symphony, the Stockholm Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony and was a guest conductor at important orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the London Symphony and the Royal Concertgebouw.

In an essay in 1991, Schnittke wrote: 'I once calculated that there are now some 40 compositions written for Rozhdestvensky - either derived from his ideas or else he was the first to conduct them. I could not believe it, but it really is so. I could even say that nearly all my own work as a composer depended on contact with him and on the many talks we had. It was in these talks that I conceived the idea for many of my composition'.

Mr. Rozhdestvensky met Shostakovich while a student and went on to vigorously promote his music. 'It would be difficult', he once said, 'to overestimate the significance of my relations with Dmitri Shostakovich and Alfred Schnittke, in that these two titans opened before me a musical universe, like a gigantic magnifying glass reflecting our fragile world'."

- Vivien Schweitzer, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 June, 2018

“Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist and conductor was renowned not only as one of the great instrumentalists of the 20th century but also as an outspoken champion of artistic freedom in the Soviet Union during the last decades of the cold war.

As a cellist, Mr. Rostropovich played a vast repertory that included works written for him by some of the 20th century’s greatest composers. Among them were Shostakovich’s Cello Concertos; Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto, Cello Sonata and Symphony-Concerto; and Britten’s Sonata, Cello Symphony and three Suites. Perhaps because his repertory was so broad, Mr. Rostropovich was able to make his cello sing in an extraordinary range of musical accents. In the big Romantic showpieces — the Dvorák, Schumann, Saint-Säens and Elgar concertos, for example — he dazzled listeners with both his richly personalized interpretations and a majestic warmth of tone. He could be a firebrand in contemporary works, and he seemed to enjoy producing the unusual timbres that modernist composers often demanded. He played the premieres of solo works by William Walton, Georges Auric, Dmitri Kabalevsky and Nikolai Miaskovsky, as well as concertos by Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki and Lukas Foss, among others.

He also studied composition with Shostakovich, and continued to do so even after the Soviet authorities condemned both Shostakovich and Prokofiev for ‘formalist perversions and antidemocratic tendencies’. He later studied composition privately with Prokofiev, and although Mr. Rostropovich’s compositions are not well known, they include two piano concertos, a string quartet and several solo piano works.”

- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27 April, 2007