Concert, DVD, Film & Theatre Reviews 20

Classic Archives: Mstislav Rostropovich

Classic Archives: Leonid Kogan

20_Rostropovich /

Classic Archives: Mstislav Rostropovich
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, opus 107[a]; Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra in E minor, opus 125 (1952 version)[b]; Musorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death[c].
Charles Groves, London Symphony Orchestra[a]; Okko Kamu, Orchestre National de l’OpĂ©ra de Monte-Carlo[b], Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)[a,b]/(piano)[c], Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano)[c]. EMI/IMG Artists DVD-Video 7243 4 90120 9 7, Region 2, PAL or 7243 4 90121 9 6, Region 1, NTSC. B&W[a]; colour[b,c], mono. TT 84:32.
Filmed in London, 16 December 1961[a]; Cannes, 12 January 1970[b]; ORTF Studios, Paris, 20 January 1970[c].

Need another recording of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto? Need it, to boot, with the perennial Slava as the main man? Well if your reply is “no thanks,” or even a polite “I’ll think about it,” you should consider a recent offering from EMI Classics (in conjunction with the BBC) wherein lies a 1961 recording of the maestro playing as majestically, powerfully and emotionally as ever he did; even without the pictures this is a performance guaranteed to satisfy the most exigent of opus 107 fans. Yes, that’s right – pictures!

Indeed, this release forms part of an important and eclectic collection already well underway from EMI, who have cunningly plundered TV archives (notably) from London, Paris and Moscow, tidied up the pictures and sound and packaged the whole onto the 21st century’s version of the long-playing disc – the DVD.

I recently read a brief (and equally superficial) review of this release in some learned magazine (best it remain nameless): the sole remark proffered concerned the unusual placement of the soloist – a significant distance from the conductor, occasionally rendering communication between the two men, well, a little awkward. But really, this is akin to fussing about the quality of the hook on which hangs some fabulous watercolour by Monet or the pedestal on which a Rodin creation stands – completely disproportionate to the art that lies before us.

What my critic colleague might instead have pointed out was that the forces in this performance – the London Symphony Orchestra under Charles Groves – do appear a little stilted at times (very “Sunday Evening on the BBC”) – but this is 42 years ago and even the most youthful of the DSCH Journal‘s readership should find plenty to marvel, rather than scoff at.

The recording appears to take place in some form of studio, given the decor and acoustics, but one large enough to accommodate an audience, whose members dutifully applaud as Rostropovich takes his seat prior to the performance. The pictures are black and white (film, via early video tape), the sound strictly monophonic, but such electro-aesthetic considerations pale into insignificance in the light of a Slava in his prime backed by a highly responsive orchestra (Barry Tuckwell as solo horn player is inspirational). I believe that the finished product here emanates from a single take, so some blemishes remain, but in spite of a little nervous bowing right at the start, Rostropovich and Groves fire a fine clay, combining passion with power, delicate ensemble with the most intricate cello technique the instrument was to enjoy in the second half of the 20th century.

As this offering combines pictures and sound, a word or two are due for the behind-the-scenes team. Production techniques in TV in 1961 were still relatively primitive, certainly as far as any visual manoeuvres and effects were concerned. Hence in this film all visual movement is achieved by way of camera crawls, tracks, tilts and pans. Not a zoom in sight! As I have already conjectured, no post-production tricks appear here either – which makes the sparing use of wipes and dissolves all the more effective. Take the cello-celesta dialogue in the third movement, or the return of the horn theme just before the final movement’s cadenza – “plain old” mixes between cameras produce intelligible, highly “musical” effects that enhance the film’s overall artistic qualities (for this reviewer, at least!). Ultimately, and logically, it is of course Shostakovich’s music combined with Rostropovich’s genius that dominates the ear – and the eye.

The disc also contains a later recording made by Rostropovich, this time featuring Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante performed with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra under the youthful Okko Kamu (whose 1987 Shostakovich Thirteenth Symphony [Chandos CHAN 8540] still stands its ground in a latter-day plethora of Babi Yar’s).

We’re in colour now (fuzzy French colour) – reflecting (albeit coincidentally) the change of mood after the Shostakovich work. Slava’s virtuosity has lost absolutely nothing in the intervening years; and once more the chance to “sit” face-on to the Baku-born maestro (for example in the Scherzo) is quite, quite spellbinding, through some fine close-up camerawork.

Finally, and in best DVD tradition, the disc contains a “Bonus”. But be not taken in by this English techno-euphemism – this bonus is no frill, no party-piece during which to feed the cat or check the lottery. Be treated to the pianist Slava, with spouse Vishnevskaya in Musorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death. The performance, both visually and musically-speaking, is vital and dramatic, and is lent an extra pound of human emotion thanks to a mise en scene that has the two performers surrounded by a youthful audience, through whose 1970 headware we catch glimpses of the couple – totally absorbed in this seminal work (which, of course, Shostakovich orchestrated in 1962).

If you haven’t yet acquired that state-of-the-art magic lantern, the DVD-Video player, do so soon, and let this DVD be the first in your collection. If you’re an old hand at Digital Versatile Disc, you’ll marvel at the non-Dolby, non-16/9, non-morphed honest brilliance that pervades this issue. Highly recommended!

Nigel Papworth

20_Kogan /

Classic Archives: Leonid Kogan
Four Preludes from Twenty-four Preludes, opus 34 (Nos. 10, 15, 16 and 24) arranged for violin and piano by Dmitri Tsyganov[a]; Handel: Sonata in E major[a]; Debussy: Beau Soir[a]; Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major[b]; Bach: Partita for Solo Violin No. 2 (3rd Movement)[b]; Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 17 in F# minor[c]; Paganini: Cantabile[c]; Falla: Suite populaire espagnole[c]; Jean-Marie Leclair: Sonata for 2 Violins in C major[d].

Leonid Kogan (violin); Andrei Mytnik (piano)[a]; Orchestre National de l’ORTF cond. Louis de Fromant[b]; Naum Walter (piano)[c]; Elizaveta Gilels-Kogan (second violin)[d].
EMI/IMG Artists DVD-Video 7243 4 92834 9 7, Region 0, PAL or 7243 4 92835 9 6, Region 1, NTSC, B&W, mono. TT 96:02.
Filmed in London, 26 March 1962[a]; ORTF Paris, 12 March 1966[b]; Paris, 1966[c]; Paris, 21 November 1963[d].

Although in no way comparable to the previous contribution in terms of seismic shifts experienced by the Shostakovich collector, this assemblage of (relative) ditties emanating from 1960s British and French archives should nevertheless delight those readers who see Kogan as one of the great unsung heroes of the 20th century violin. The disc equally offers (true, almost incidentally), a rare glimpse of just how opus 34a can assuage the visual appetite, beyond the good ol’ CD and vinyl experience to which we’ve become accustomed, courtesy of Mr. Tsyganov’s arrangements. The playing is elegant and highly poised, not at all self-conscious (which would have been understandable in view of the rather sombre settings – bleak-grey stage, grim-black backcloth – in which the recital was preserved for posterity). True, this is a thousand leagues from the weight and intensity of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto which Kogan was famously to record on at least two occasions (and to great, and highly warranted, acclaim). Unmissable is the appearance in the eternal “Bonus” of Kogan’s wife, the sister of one Emil Gilels…

My recommendation – enjoy!

Nigel Papworth