Thursday 13 October 2011

Rostropovich: The Genius of the Cello

When Mstislav Rostropovich died in 2007, one of the last great connections to a generation of remarkable composers was lost.  Rostropovich was celebrated internationally as the greatest cellist of his age, but he was also the man who coaxed the finest cello music of the Twentieth Century from its towering composers.  Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten, Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Dutilleux - these are just a few, though it was the first three with whom Rostropovich's name become inextricably linked.  John Bridcut's excellent documentary, broadcast last Friday on BBC4, touched on these special relationships and culminated in the first glimpse of newly discovered footage of the premiere, in Moscow, of Britten's Cello Symphony. 

Here was a man of enormous energy, who inspired love and a certain degree of fear in his students and colleagues.  Unlike many of his Soviet contemporaries, Rostropovich was sometimes outspoken in his criticisms of the authorities and their actions and it ultimately forced his exile from his homeland for almost two decades.  Bridcut's documentary ties Rostropovich's story together with this story of political conscience, beginning with the story of his famous 1968 Proms appearance, playing Dvorak on the day Soviet tanks rolled into Prague, and ending with his dramatic intervention in the fall of the Soviet Union, two decades later.  Hopefully, a DVD will follow this broadcast, with all of the footage from the Britten premiere.

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