Mstislav Rostropovich
Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

The Art of Rostropovich


Mstislav Rostropovich
Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

"For me, Rostropovich remains the quintessence of cello playing." (David Geringas)

Deutsche Grammophon presents a truly encyclopaedic boxset which for the first time brings together “Slava’s” complete recordings for Decca, Philips, and the Yellow Label (as cellist, pianist & conductor). Also included are his recordings for Westminster/Melodija.

This Edition includes the legendary 1968 Dvořák Cello Concerto with Herbert von Karajan, no less than three versions of the Schubert String Quintet and famed recordings he made with Martha Argerich, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Benjamin Britten, Sviatoslav Richter and Rudolf Serkin; and perhaps what was his most fulfilled musical partnership – that with his wife, the great Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, whom he accompanied as both conductor (Tosca, Pique Dame) and pianist.

37 CDs | 479 6789 | Int. Release 6 Jan. 2017

The perfect introduction to one of the world’s best loved cellists!

Rostropovich´s greatest and most popular recordings on 3 CDs including: The legendary Dvořák Cello Concerto with Karajan, the  Chopin Cello Sonata with Martha Argerich, and the Brahms Cello Sonata No. 1 with Rudolf Serkin. Plus a selection of hard-to-find and beautiful encores.

Not only a cellist, a conductor, a pianist and a trained composer, Rostropovich was – in the words of his pupil David Geringas – “an entire universe unto himself”, a man whose subject was not merely music alone, but “the whole world”: The world of humanity, of emotion, of intellect, of communication and of understanding.

3 CDs / Download | 479 7043 | Int. Rel.: 6 Jan. 17

Explore the Edition


When Mstislav Rostropovich died in Moscow at the age of eighty on 27 April 2007, thousands of men, women and children took their leave of him. They included state presidents and first ladies as well as countless young musicians and simple members of the middle class – his burial resembled nothing so much as a state funeral. Rostropovich’s contribution to the art of cello playing is in itself scarcely enough to explain all of this, even if we allow that for many years he had been the finest cellist in the world and had even come to personify the cello, not to mention the fact that with his incomparable playing he inspired around half of the standard modern cello repertory, including works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, Lutosławski, Penderecki and Schnittke. Nor should we forget that thanks to his pupils and their pupils and, not least, thanks to his recordings, he continues to exert a profound influence of the younger generation of cellists. The reason for his popularity must be sought, rather, in the fact that Rostropovich was loved and revered as a human being whose warmth, courage and integrity had over the decades turned him into a cultural icon. He was loved as a teacher whose commitment went far beyond imparting technical and musical abilities and as a humanist who in the early 1970s fearlessly championed artistic freedom and as a result lost his privileges as an exemplary Soviet artist. And yet even after he had emigrated to the West he continued to stand up for civil rights, while initiating and supporting a large number of charitable projects.

Ultimately, however, it is impossible to regard his greatness as a human being and his musical significance as totally separate entities, for not only would Rostropovich scarcely have been in a position to exercise his moral authority if he had not been a successful musician but the much-admired qualities of his cello playing were marked by his uncommonly accessible, communicative and all-embracing personality and by the inexhaustible vitality and delight in expression on the part of a man whom the entire world knew as “Slava”.

Typical of Rostropovich’s cello playing were above all its overwhelming intensity and a tone that was not only full and warm but also rich in colours and susceptible to a whole range of modulatory nuances from the lowest to the very highest register. Various technical peculiarities such as his way of placing his fingers almost flat on the strings in order to achieve better contact with them were invariably placed in the service of a particular sonority. Or take his powerful handling of his unusually heavy bow and, related to it, the exceptionally flat, almost horizontal position of his instrument, requiring the use of a bent endpin of a kind developed by the French cellist Paul Tortelier.

At his concerts and recitals Rostropovich gave his all, seeking out extreme sonorities and creating the ultimate degree in inner tension without, however, turning the work into a mere vehicle for his own need to express himself. While preparing a piece for performance, he would immerse himself in each and every detail of the score in order then to rise above the limitations of the notes on the printed page and convey the feeling that the music was being recreated at the moment of its performance. Achieving this presupposed a complete musician, which is precisely what Rostropovich was. He not only played the cello but was also an excellent pianist who accompanied his wife, the eminent soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, at her song recitals and who could perform from memory the piano and orchestral accompaniments of the whole of the cello repertory. He demanded that his pupils, too, should know not only their own parts but also all of the other parts in a piece. He was additionally a distinguished conductor, who from 1977 to 1994 served as principal conductor of the Washington-based National Symphony Orchestra. And, last but not least, he was an academically trained composer held in high regard by his teacher Shostakovich.

When performing music, Rostropovich thought like a composer, charging each individual note with meaning, while never allowing his eye for detail to impair his understanding of the bigger picture or to undermine his ability to build to the work’s climaxes and bring out its underlying structures. His pupil of many years’ standing, David Geringas, recalls that “To absolute music, with all of its motifs and forms, he could bring concrete structures that left you feeling they were figures and living human beings”. The significance of this remark for Rostropovich’s own interpretations emerges not only from the songlike or virtuoso encores featured in the third CD in the present release but also from the Romantic cello concertos and sonatas included in the first two CDs, works that continue to be associated with his name today. Take the A minor Concerto by Saint-Saëns that Rostropovich performed at his public debut when he was only thirteen and that later became one of his warhorses. Or consider his exemplary and classic interpretation of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, which he recorded in 1968 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan. Every phrase seems to inhabit the stage like a living person, pompous or bashful, ebullient or dreamy – and yet when they work together, they always appear credible and vital.

If Rostropovich regarded playing the cello as a theatrical act and as a spontaneous recreation of the piece that he was performing, then one result of this attitude was that he attached less importance than some of his colleagues to the microphone and to studio recordings. He did not believe in a single ultimately valid version of a piece but needed an audience and the unique and unpredictable conditions of a live performance. In spite of this, Rostropovich’s recordings continue to have a tremendously high value, especially now that he himself is no longer among us, for they help to keep alive the memory of many an unrepeatable moment of pure magic.

Jürgen Ostmann
Translation: texthouse
Photos: © Siegfried Lauterwasser/DG