A rare concert this week. And since we’re sliding into Festival season, a historic recording from a legendary festival. The Leningrad Symphony, conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and featuring the iconic cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Beginning with Benjamin Britten’s Variations And Fugue on a Theme of Purcell (better known as “A Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra), Followed by what may be the first Western performance of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto with Rostropovich, the dedicatee, as soloist. The concert continues with Miaskovsky’s Symphony Number 21. And then continues with Tchaikovsky’s Fantasia: Francesa da Rimini, and ends with an encore; the Dance of Tybalt from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. A memorable concert all around.
Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich; (27 March 1927 – 27 April 2007) was a Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor. He is considered to be one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. In addition to his interpretations and technique, he was well known for both inspiring and commissioning new works, which enlarged the cello repertoire more than any cellist before or since. He inspired and premiered over 100 pieces, forming long-standing friendships and artistic partnerships with composers including Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev, Henri Dutilleux, Witold Lutosławski, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Norbert Moret, Andreas Makris, Leonard Bernstein and Benjamin Britten.
Rostropovich was internationally recognized as a staunch advocate of human rights, and was awarded the 1974 Award of the International League of Human Rights. He was married to the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and had two daughters, Olga and Elena Rostropovich.
Gennady Rozhdestvensky was born in Moscow. His parents were the noted conductor and pedagogue Nikolai Anosov and soprano Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya. His given name was Gennady Nikolayevich Anosov, but he adopted his mother’s maiden name in its masculine form for his professional career so as to avoid the appearance of nepotism. His younger brother, the painter P.N. Anosov, retained their father’s name.
He studied conducting with his father at the Moscow Conservatory and piano with Lev Oborin. Already known for having conducted Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre at the age of 20, he quickly established his reputation. He premiered many works of Soviet composers, including Edison Denisov’s Le soleil des Incas (Sun of the Incas) (1964), as well as giving the Russian premiere of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Western premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival.
He became general artistic director of the Bolshoi Theatre in 2000, and in 2001 conducted the world premiere of the original version of Sergei Prokofiev’s opera The Gambler.
Not long afterwards he resigned, citing desertion by singers, production problems and hostile coverage by the Moscow press.
Rozhdestvensky is considered a versatile conductor and a highly cultured musician with a supple stick technique. In moulding his interpretations, he gives a clear idea of the structural outlines and emotional content of a piece, combined with a performing style which melds logic, intuition and spontaneity.
I am pretty certain this concert (at least the Shostakovich) has been reissued, at least several times. The rest of the concert, I’m not so sure about. In any event, it’s the complete concert from September 16, 1960 as broadcast by the BBC and issued to overseas radio outlets with the BBC Transcription Service.