Released as a memorial for the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who passed away on 27 April 2007, this DVD contains one bonafide cello concerto, the Schumann Cello Concerto in A minor, and two tone poems with prominent cello parts, Ernest Bloch's Schelomo and Richard Strauss' Don Quixote. Rostropovich mastered the Schumann in several famous recordings. Here, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, he provides a splendid performance. Featuring his trademark powerful technique, smooth legato and crisp vibrato, the Romantic roots of the concerto are never hidden for long, despite the relatively cool playing of the Orchestre National de France. Bernstein, sporting a natty beard, is especially reticent, preferring to allow Rostropovich to shine in this performance filmed in October 1976, shortly after he was exiled from Russia. The emotional evening results in a nearly 8 minute standing ovation from the glittering French audience. Bloch's Schelomo, a modernist piece due more to its inventive orchestration than to its mild dissonances, is given an extremely brilliant performance by an effusive Bernstein. Crisp and sonorous, this is one of the finest versions of this piece I've heard, comparing favorably to Yo-Yo Ma's fine recording for Sony. This concert, also featuring the Orchestre National de France, was filmed in November 1976.
Finally, the January 1975 performance of Don Quixote, filmed soon after Rostropovich's April 1974 exile, is conducted by Herbert von Karajan. He leads the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance that can be compared to a toupe made of silk: perfect, smooth and without a strand that's out of place. Every detail of this massive score is crystalline in its clarity, the orchestra's tone is burnished and warm. This is Karajan at his peak and it is not to be missed! Rostropovich serves more of an obligato role here, and he fulfills it splendidly.
The film and sound quality are good, though the Bernstein performance of the Schumann is marred by some brief video fuzziness from one of the cameras. It is only intermittant, however, and that camera is only used for a minute or two. The rest of the video is quite clear. I saw no evidence of bad video quality as mentioned in another review, unless the reviewer meant the slight graininess typical of a 30 year old film. That cannot be helped. In any case, the film quality is fine for its age. The sound for both of the Bernstein recordings is clear and full. For the Karajan Don Quixote, both picture and sound are near perfect, with no imperfections (conspiracy theorists take note). A thirty minute biography containing interviews of Rostropovich and others, rounding out the 131 minute DVD, serves as a very moving hommage. It includes film of his last rehearsal in Moscow and an interview recorded shortly before his death.
This is a superb DVD. Fans of Slava, of great cello playing or of either of the two conductors, will want to add this disc to their collections. A fitting tribute to a great musician and a very courageous man. Most strongly recommended.