Buyers need to be advised that these three live performances, all conducted carelessly by Rozhdestventsky, are in boxy mono that could be mistaken for a much older recording than 1965. the London Sym. doesn't cover itself in glory, either, which leaves the spotlight completely on Rostropovich. Fortunately, he is at his magnificent best. The program, aslisted by The Gramophone, is as follows:
Elgar Concerto for Cello and Orchestra,Op. 85.
Haydn Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No 1,HobVIIb/1.
Saint-SaŽns Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No 1,Op. 33.
The key work is the Elgar, for two reasons: Rostropovich is treading on ground made sacred by Jaqueline Du Pre, and he never recorded the work commercially. As a one-off it's mesmerizing, fully the equal of Du Pre's two passionate, free-wheeling accounts (her readings were so incandescent that most cellists after her tend to underplay the work so as not to suffer by comparison). Both of Du Pre's conductors, Sir John Barbirolli and husband Daniel Barenboim, are more secure in Elgar's idiom than the feeble Rozhdestvensky, who seems lost most of the time, letting Rostropovich take the lead.
Even if the Elgar is your reason for buying this CD, attention must be paid to the other two works. Rostropovich made at least two commercial recordings of the Haydn, and this live reading duplicates the reckless virtuosity he displayed on them. The Saint-Saens is given a blistering preformance that quite redeems the work, making it seem twice as good as it really is. There's no helping the draggy slow movement, but whenever Rostropovich returns to the rhapsodic main theme that recurs in the fast movements, he digs in and tosses off the rapid passagework as if its difficulty meant nothing.
In sum, three great performances in which Rostropovich carries everything on his shoulders.