"A very bright star illuminating a galaxy of geniuses," this is how, as his former student, French violinist Xavier Phillips described him. Mstislav Rostropovich illuminated the 20th century with his talent that went beyond the mastery of his instrument.
Born in 1927 in Baku, Azerbaijan, his mother taught him the piano and his father the cello. At the Moscow Conservatory he studied piano, cello, conducting and composition with his teachers Shostakovich and Prokofiev. He gave his first concert at fifteen then won First Prize at the Moscow General competition and at the Prague and Budapest competitions in 1947 and 1949. In 1955, he married Galina Vichnyevskaya, a soprano at the Bolshoi. As he reaches celebrity status, he resists the Soviet regime by supporting Solzhenitsyn, and is subjected to much harassment.
In 1974, he and his wife are authorized to leave the USSR and they arrive in Paris. It is certainly these difficult periods which helped form his moral conscience and led him to intervening in the course of history: the photo of him in front of the Berlin wall playing a Bach suite in 1989 has traveled around the world.
His name will also be definitively linked with the history of music through the incredible number of works he inspired and premiered, including the Concerto No. 1 for Cello and Orchestra, written for him by Shostakovitch and that we hear in this film. Rostropovich had to wait many years before the composer created a piece for him. But in 1959, when hearing him in Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto, Shostakovitch decided to write for him the Concerto No. 1, which is premiered by Rostropovich the same year.
The film reveals several facets of his talent as a cellist (he was also a wonderful orchestra conductor who loved opera). He appears first solo, in 1962, on French television in Paris, where he interprets the two bourrées from Bach's Cello Suite No. 3: works that will accompany his entire career and which he will record in the Basilica in Vézelay.
We then discover his talents in chamber music, in 1970 in Paris, accompanied by Vasso Devetzi in a rare piece: the Twelve Variations on a theme from Mozart's Magic Flute. A year beforehand, in 1969, in Paris, in the company of Bruno Rigutto, he virtually gives a second premiere to the Nocturne and Scherzo for Cello and Piano by Claude Debussy, an early work remained unknown in France until this first audition at the television studios.
Lastly, the Pièce de résistance of the programme, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1 recorded in 1961, for British television, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves: The work, fashioned to match the fabulous talent of the man it was dedicated to, explodes from the first measures like a huge wave drowning everything before it.
Edinburgh Festival 1964
Orchestre de Monte-Carlo, Okko Kamu