C1864. JEAN MARTINON Cond. Chicago Orch., w.MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH: Cello Concerto #2 in G (Shostakovitch) (Played by the dedicatée; Shostakovich allowed Rostropovich to make a few changes to the Concerto's cadenzas); MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH (Solo Cello): Suite in d - Sarabande (Bach) - preceded by Rostropovitch's spoken introduction, Live Performance, 5 May, 1967, Orchestra Hall; JEAN MARTINON Cond. ORTF S.O.: Symphony #1 in f (Shostakovitch), Live Performance, 17 Dec., 1960, Paris. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1117. 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 Concerti, Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto, Cello Sonata and Symphony-Concerto, and Britten’s Sonata, Cello Symphony and three Suites.
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 Part, 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.
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’.
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 Vezelay, 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
“In the words of one of his biographers, conductor Jean Martinon's performances ‘were distinguished by a concern for translucent orchestral textures, and sustained by a subtle sense of rhythm and phrasing’. Occasionally ‘he stressed a poetic inflection at the expense of literal accuracy’.
Martinon's first instrument was the violin; he studied at the Lyons Conservatory (1924-1925), then transferred to the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prize in violin upon his graduation in 1928. He subsequently studied composition with Albert Roussel, and conducting with Charles Münch and Roger Desormière. Until the outbreak of World War II Martinon was primarily a composer. His early substantial works include a Symphoniette for piano, percussion, and strings (1935); Symphony #1 (1936); Concerto giocoso for violin and orchestra (1937); and a wind quintet (1938). At the start of the war he was drafted into the French army. Taken prisoner in 1940, he passed the next two years in a Nazi labor camp. There, he wrote’ Stalag IX’ (Musique d'exil), an orchestral piece incorporating elements of jazz; during his internment, he also composed several religious works, including ’Absolve’, ‘Domine’ for male chorus and orchestra, and ‘Psalm 136’ (Chant des captifs), the latter receiving a composition prize from the city of Paris in 1946.
Upon his release from the Nazi camp Martinon became conductor of the Bordeaux Symphony Orchestra (from 1943 to 1945) and assistant conductor of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (from 1944 to 1946), then associate conductor of the London Philharmonic (from 1947 to 1949). He toured as a guest conductor as well, although his U.S. début did not come until 1957, with the Boston Symphony giving the American premiere of his Symphony #2. Although he devoted as much time as he could to composing in the early postwar years -- producing a string quartet (1946), an ‘Irish’ Symphony (1948), the ballet ‘Ambohimang’a (1946), and the opera HÉCUBE (1949-1954) -- he was increasingly occupied with conducting, working with the Concerts Lamoureux (from 1951 to 1957), the Israel Philharmonic (from 1957 to 1959), and Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra (from 1960 to 1966). Martinon resumed his career as a composer around 1960, writing his Violin Concerto #2 (1960) for Henryk Szeryng, his Cello Concerto (1964) for Pierre Fournier, and his Symphony #4 (‘Altitudes’), composed in 1965, for the 75th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony. He acknowledged Prokofiev and Bartók as strong influences on his scores, which meld Expressionism with French Neoclassicism. Martinon continued composing into the 1970s, but he seldom recorded any of his own music, with the notable exceptions of the Second Symphony, ‘Hymne à la vie’ (ORTF, for Barclay Inedits) and Fourth Symphony, ‘Altitudes"’ (Chicago SO, for RCA).
In 1963, he succeeded Fritz Reiner as head of the Chicago Symphony. Martinon's tenure there was difficult. In five seasons, he conducted 60 works by modern European and American composers, and made a number of outstanding LPs for RCA, mostly of bracing twentieth century repertory in audiophile sound. Chicago's conservative music lovers soon sent him packing.
Martinon jumped at the chance to take over the French National Radio Orchestra in 1968; working with this ensemble, he recorded almost the entire standard French repertory for Erato and EMI. His earlier Erato efforts that focused on such secondary but nevertheless interesting figures as Roussel, Pierné, and Dukas, whereas EMI assigned him integral sets of the Saint-Saëns symphonies and the orchestral works of Debussy and Ravel, among other projects. In 1974, he was appointed principal conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, but he died before that relationship could bear much fruit.”
- James Reel, allmusic.com