Beethoven first: on August 30th 1964, at the Edinburgh Festival, Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter played the complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano by Beethoven for the one and only time in concert . The cameras of the BBC that were there allow us to hear these two legends in the Fourth Sonata Opus 102 No. 1, a bold work typical of the last period of Beethoven's life. A version which is hard to surpass. To measure the importance of the event, one must refer to the stature of the musicians on stage who dominate the whole history of 20th century music.
Mstislav Rostropovich was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1927. His mother taught him the piano and his father the cello. At the Moscow Conservatory he studies the piano, the cello, conducting and composition (he has Shostakovich and Prokofiev as teachers!). 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 singer at the Bolshoi. Once he becomes famous he resists the Soviet regime, comes out in support of Solzhenitsyn and is subjected to much harassment. In 1974, his wife and he are authorized to leave the USSR. He is deprived of his nationality four years later.
Although Sviatoslav Richter was born in 1915 in Ukraine, it was in Odessa that he spent his childhood and adolescence. His father, a pianist, introduces him very young to the instrument. He doesn't have any special tuition and learns 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 - says of him, "That's the student I have been waiting for all my life. For me, he is a genius."
But it is to Prokofiev that we owe this meeting between these two legends: in 1949 they premiered the Sonata for Cello and Piano. They also premiered another Prokofiev piece in 1952, the Sinfonia Concertante, written for Rostropovich, conducted by Richter (a broken finger prevented him from playing the piano). It is this score, later forbidden by the Soviet authorities, that Rostropovich plays for us in 1970 with the Monte Carlo Orchestra under the direction of Okko Kamu. A score of which he knows all the secrets.
London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Groves (conductor), Bruno Rigutto, Vasso Devetzi (piano)