Friday, April 27, 2007

A deep, autumnal tone

"Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!"

- P.B. Shelley 'Ode to the West Wind'

Mstislav Rostropovich - great-hearted cellist, fiery conductor and one of twentieth century classical music's most iconic figures - died today.

It's impossible to put in words what Rostropovich sounds like. Whether he's wandering through the labyrinths of Bach, tearing into the orchestra with Dvorak or Haydn, or just humming along with Mutter and Giuranna in the Beethoven string trios, Rostropovich's playing is always both glorious and profound, both soulful and incendiary.

And Rostropovich doesn't just enhance the repertoire, he expands it. Take this list of composers whose work Rostropovich premiered from the New York Times' obituary - Walton, Auric, Kabalevsky, Misaskovsky, Lutoslawski, Messiaen, Schnittke, Dutilleux, Part, Penderecki, Foss, Kancheli - a veritable Who's Who of contemporary classical music composers (about a third of whom, I must admit, I've never heard of). What greater testament to the man's engagement with his field?

But most of all, there's Rostropovich's magnificent obsession with Shostakovich. There are other great cellists - Du Pre, Casals - and certainly other great conductors, but when it comes to Shostakovich, Rostropovich, for me, stands alone. It's thanks to him that I first discovered Shostakovich's magnificent Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, through him that I savoured the delights of the marvellous Cello Concertos, and that astounding Sonata for cello and piano No. 40.

What better way to mark this great musician's passing, then, than by linking to a recording of Rostropovich playing the first movement of Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No.1.


Cheshire Cat said...

Rostropovich sounds interesting, but it would be even more interesting to know what "Mstislav" sounds like...

bess said...

Somehow I knew your words would be the most meaningful I'd read all day on this great man...can't wait to listen to a recording of him conducting the 1812 Overture.