Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A marathon of great music and great performance

The great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was in his prime, about to turn 40, when he arrived in New York with the London Symphony Orchestra for eight concerts at Carnegie Hall between February 23 and March 12, 1967. The excitement surrounding this project is easy to hear; there's a real sense of occasion in this music, and though the applause for each piece is cut quite short, what's left is (rightly) very enthusiastic. For this six-CD set Doremi has chosen 22 concertos from the 30 performed. It seems a bit churlish to complain, with all the amazing riches included, about what isn't here. But what a shame to have the greatest of 20th century cello concertos, the Elgar, to lead off the set, without the greatest 19th century concerto, the Dvorak, to go with it. I also regret not having the Schumann concerto, and the two Haydn concertos. But let's accentuate the positive, beginning with the Elgar Cello Concerto. Comparing it with the classic performance by Jacqueline du Pre (with the same LSO), it seems much cooler at first than du Pre's more emotional attack, but Rostropovich soon turns on the afterburners, and provides just as satisfying an experience when the piece is over. Other highlights include Prokofiev's Concertino, a work that is much more substantial and interesting than the diminutive title would suggest, and the Britten Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, which was written for Rostropovich in 1964. I also much enjoyed the Hindemith Concerto, and the two American world premieres, by Foss and Piston. Ottorino Respighi's Adagio con variazioni is a really remarkable piece of music, which Rostropovich sinks his teeth into. It's marvellous to have it available in such a strong performance.

Unfortunately, my enjoyment in this music is not completely unalloyed. The baroque music, concertos by Vivaldi and Tartini, does not match the level of the rest of the program. I was perfectly willing to put aside my love for the historically informed style in vogue today, even indulging in a bit of guilty pleasure. But I got no pleasure from these lumpish, unformed performances. There was precious little charm here, and no real feeling that Rostropovich was engaged in this music. These are the exceptions, though, rather than the rule, and I can enthusiastically recommend this marathon of great music and great performance.

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