C1456. ERICH LEINSDORF Cond. Boston Symphony Orch., w.MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVITCH: Cello Concerto in b (Dvorák); w.Samuel Mayes & Joseph de Pasquale: Don Quixote (Strauss). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-379, both Live Performances, 23 Oct., 1965 & 29 Nov., 1963, Symphony Hall, Boston. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist and conductor who 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, 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 Concertoi, 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-Saëns and Elgar concerti, for example - he dazzled listeners with both his richly personalized interpretations and a majestic warmth of tone. His graceful accounts of the Bach Suites for Unaccompanied Cello illuminated the works’ structural logic as well as their inner spirituality.
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 concerti by Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki and Lukas Foss, among others.
As a conductor, he was an individualist. He happily molded tempi, phrase shapes and instrumental balances to suit an interpretive vision that was distinctly his own. And if his work did not suit all tastes, it was widely agreed that the passion he brought to the podium yielded performances that were often as compelling as they were unconventional. He was at his most eloquent, and also his most freewheeling, in Russian music, particularly in the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
Tall, heavyset and bald except for a halo of white hair, Mr. Rostropovich was a commanding presence both on and off the stage. But he was also gregarious in an extroverted, Russian way. At the end of an orchestral performance, he often hopped off the podium and kissed and hugged every musician within reach.
He had a mischievous sense of humor that cut through the sobriety of the concert atmosphere. He sometimes surprised his accompanists by pasting centerfolds from men’s magazines into the pages of their scores. At the San Francisco Symphony’s 70th-birthday tribute to Isaac Stern, he played ‘the Swan’ movement from Saint- Saëns’ CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS attired in white tights, a ballet tutu, a swanlike headdress and red lipstick.
Mr. Rostropovich was the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington from 1977 to 1994 and afterward remained close to it as its conductor laureate. He also had strong relationships with several of the world’s great orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.
In an interview in THE NEW YORK TIMES, Mr. Rostropovich said of Shostakovich, ‘He was the most important man in my life, after my father’. He added: ‘Sometimes when I’m conducting, I see his face coming to me. Sometimes it’s not really a happy face - I conduct maybe a bit too slow. So I conduct faster, and the face disappears’. 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 concerti, a string quartet and several solo piano works.
Mr. Rostropovich always said that one of the principal lures of the podium was that the orchestral repertory seemed so vast when compared with the cello repertory. But he did not confine himself to the classics. He commissioned regularly, and led the premieres of more than 50 works.
Mr. Rostropovich, who was widely known by his diminutive, ‘Slava’ (which means ‘glory’ in Russian), was also an accomplished pianist. He was often the accompanist at recitals by his wife, the Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, whom he married in 1955.
Mr. Rostropovich became famous beyond musical circles as a symbol of artistic conscience and his defiance of the Soviet regime. When Mr. Solzhenitsyn came under attack by Soviet authorities in the late 1960s, Mr. Rostropovich and Ms. Vishnevskaya allowed him to stay in their dacha at Zhukovka, outside Moscow. He was their guest for four years, and Mr. Rostropovich tried to intercede on his behalf, personally taking the manuscript of ‘August 1914’ to the Ministry of Culture and arguing that there was nothing threatening to the Soviet system in it. His efforts were rebuffed.
Mr. Rostropovich’s own troubles began in 1970 when, out of frustration with the suppression of writers, artists and musicians, he sent an open letter to Pravda, the state-run newspaper, which did not publish it. Western newspapers did. ‘Explain to me, please, why in our literature and art so often people absolutely incompetent in this field have the final word’, he asked in the letter. ‘Every man must have the right fearlessly to think independently and express his opinion about what he knows, what he has personally thought about and experienced, and not merely to express with slightly different variations the opinion which has been inculcated in him’. After the letter was published, Mr. Rostropovich and Ms. Vishnevskaya were unable to travel abroad and faced dwindling engagements at home.
Occasionally, it would seem that the ban was lifted. In 1971, Mr. Rostropovich conducted and Ms. Vishnevskaya sang in Bolshoi Opera performances of Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE in Vienna, and Mr. Rostropovich was allowed to travel to the United States for concerts. But the next year, scheduled appearances in Austria and Britain were canceled without explanation. It was not until 1974 that they were allowed out of the country again. That year they were given two-year travel visas. In the West, Mr. Rostropovich told interviewers that he missed his homeland and longed to return but that he would not do so until artists were free to speak their minds. ‘I will not utter one single lie in order to return’, he said in 1977. ‘And once there, if I see new injustice, I will speak out four times more loudly than before’. The Soviet government’s response was to revoke his and Ms. Vishnevskaya’s citizenship in 1978. Thereafter they traveled on special Swiss documents. But they outlived the Soviet system. In November 1989, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he gave an impromptu concert there.
Mr. Rostropovich’s Soviet citizenship was restored in January 1990. The next month, he took the National Symphony to Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). The event was the subject of a television documentary, ‘Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia’, released on video in 1992.
In 1991, when Communist hard-liners tried to topple the more open regime, Mr. Rostropovich went to Moscow to stand beside President Yeltsin. Two years later, during the siege of the Russian White House, Mr. Rostropovich, who was touring Russia again with the National Symphony, gave a free concert in Red Square, attended by 100,000 people. Originally planned as a gesture to music lovers who were unable to attend the indoor concerts, the performance was transformed into a show of support for democratization. ‘Russians need to be reminded at times like this that they are a great people’, he told a TIMES reporter at the time. ‘Events disrupt things a little sometimes, but listening to this music is a reminder that there’s a great nation here’.
Mr. Rostropovich made his conducting début in 1968, when he led a performance of Tchaikovsky’s EUGEN ONÉGIN at the Bolshoi. He made his British conducting début with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in 1974. His first American conducting performances were with the National Symphony and the San Francisco Opera in 1975. In 1977 Mr. Rostropovich accepted the directorship of the National Symphony Orchestra, succeeding Antal Doráti. He also brought the orchestra into the world spotlight, taking it on its first tours of Europe, Asia and the Soviet Union, conducting it regularly at Carnegie Hall, and making many recordings with it.
In addition to conducting, he continued to pursue an active recital and concerto career as a cellist. His instrument was the 1711 ‘Duport’ Stradivarius, which he had fitted with a special bent tailpin, to make the angle at which he held the cello more comfortable.
He also continued to make superb recordings of the great cello works. Yet it was not until 1991, when he was 63, that he decided to record all six of the Bach Suites, a set he considered the crowning glory of the instrument’s literature. It was a project over which he maintained complete control. He chose the site, the Basilique Sainte-Madeleine, in the Burgundian village of Vézelay, France, because he considered the church’s acoustics perfect and the simplicity of its architecture inspiring. He produced and edited the recordings himself and paid for the sessions so that if he were dissatisfied, he would be free to destroy the tapes. As it turned out, he was pleased with the results, which were released on CD and video in 1995.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27 APRIL, 2007
"Erich Leinsdorf, a conductor whose abrasive intelligence and deep musical learning served as a conscience for two generations of conductors, had a utilitarian stage manner and his disdain of dramatic effects for their own sake stood out as a not-so-silent rebuke to his colleagues in this most glamorous of all musical jobs. In addition, Mr. Leinsdorf - in rehearsal, in the press and in his valuable book on conducting, THE COMPOSER'S ADVOCATE - never tired of pointing out gaps in culture among musicians, faulty editing among music publishers and errors in judgment or acts of ignorance among his fellow conductors. He rarely named his victims, but his messages and their targets were often clear. Moreover, he usually had the solid grasp of facts to support his contentions.
Mr. Leinsdorf moved to this country from Vienna in 1937. Helped by the recommendation of Arturo Toscanini, whom he had been assisting at the Salzburg Festival, Mr. Leinsdorf made his conducting début at the Metropolitan Opera a year later with DIE WALKÜRE. He was 25 years old at the time . A year later he was made overseer of the Met's German repertory, and his contentious style - in particular an insistence on textual accuracy and more rehearsal - won him no friends among singers like Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad. Backed by management, he remained at the Met until 1943. At the New York City Opera, where he became music director in 1956, Mr. Leinsdorf's demanding policies in matters of repertory and preparation made him further enemies, and he left a year later. His searches for permanent employment turned mostly to orchestras. After the briefest of tenures at the Cleveland Orchestra during World War II, Mr. Leinsdorf took over the Rochester Philharmonic and stayed for nine years.
Mr. Leinsdorf's last and most prestigious music directorship was at the Boston Symphony, where he replaced Charles Münch in 1962. No contrast in style could have been sharper: Münch had viewed conducting mystically, as a kind of priesthood; Mr. Leinsdorf's policy was to make performances work in the clearest and most rational way. Observers both in and out of the orchestra could not deny the benefits of Mr. Leinsdorf's discipline, but there were some who were hostile to what they perceived as an objectivity that could hardly be called heartwarming.
One American orchestra manager a few years ago responded to musicians' grumblings over Mr. Leinsdorf's rehearsal manner by saying that he was ‘good for my orchestra’. And so he probably was.”
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Sept., 1993