Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter play Beethoven's Cello Sonatas No. 3 and No. 5

Edinburgh Festival 1964

A Legendary Concert: Rostropovich, Richter and Beethoven.

On August 30th 1964, at the Edinburgh Festival, Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter play, for the one and only time in concert Beethoven's complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano.  The cameras of the BBC were there for the second part dedicated to the Third and Fifth Sonatas

To measure the importance of the event, one just needs to refer to the stature of the musicians on stage who dominate the whole history of 20th century music. Brilliant performers, they combine all the qualities: transcendental virtuosity, phenomenal memory, a detailed understanding of the score, heightened sensibility. They have also greatly contributed to the creation of masterpieces by working closely with composers, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Britten to mention but a few. Their life is also a legend, Rostropovich through his involvement in history, Richter through his reclusion from history.

Mstislav Rostropovich, born in Azerbaijan in 1927, studied the piano, the cello, conducting and composition at the Moscow Conservatory (with Shostakovich). He played his first concert at fifteen, won First Prize at the Moscow General competition and at the Prague and Budapest competitions in 1947 and 1949. In 1955, he married Galina Vishnevskaya, a soprano at the Bolshoi. His career was hugely successful, and only stopped when he died in 2007.

Sviatoslav Richter, didn't have any special training. Born in 1915 in Ukraine, he grew up in Odessa where his pianist father introduced him early on to the instrument. He learnt alone by reading opera scores. "I had three teachers, my father, Wagner and Heinrich Neuhaus." Neuhaus whom he joins at the Moscow Conservatory at the age of twenty-two and says of him, "That's the student I have been waiting for all my life. For me, he is a genius."

These two geniuses meet for the first time in 1949 and premiere Prokofiev's Sonata for Cello and Piano. They also premiere Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante in 1952, with Richter conducting and Rostropovich on the cello. In the course of their playing together they perform most of the cello and piano repertoire, but they never form a very close duo. The end of their relations dates from the recording of Beethoven's Triple Concerto with David Oïstrakh and Karajan: "There was on one side Karajan and Rostropovich and on the other, Oïstrakh and me, says Richter. It was war."

Although this Beethoven crystallised everything that separated them, the Beethoven of the Cello and Piano Sonatas, fortunately for us, brought them together at the beginning of the sixties. From 1961 to 1963, they recorded for Philips the Five Sonatas, that each represented in their way Beethoven's career, from his "classic" debut (the two first Sonatas Opus 5) to the last bold efforts (the two last Sonatas Opus 102). Between these two blocks, there is the Sonata n°3 Opus 69, which is the most popular.

In this sequence dedicated to the second part of the concert, the performers play the Third and Fifth Sonatas. In the Third, Rostropovich and Richter seem to give free reign to their spontaneity, as if they were improvising the piece before our eyes, with a communicative freedom of tone. More interiorised and irregular, the Fifth Sonata calls for musicians able to reach such heights. They were there that evening.

Movie director : Philippe Truffault
Collection : Classic Archive
Playlist : The musical life in USRR
Musical period : Classical music
Music genre : Recitals and chamber music
Musical form : Sonata

Duration : 51 min
Recording date : 30/08/1964
Production date : 2001
Production : © Idéale Audience / Img Artists / BBC

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