Mstislav Rostropovich

Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante; Miaskovsky: Cello Concerto

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Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra in E minor, Op. 125, makes the listener aware of the level of external and internal conflict under which the composer was laboring at the time of its composition in 1952, close to the end of his life. Prokofiev had suffered under the censure of the Soviet regime in the last decades of his life and worked hard to maintain his artistic integrity while avoiding offending the delicate aesthetic sensibilities of the authorities. The Sinfonia Concertante, his last major work, suffers for being a balancing act that didn't allow the composer to give expression to the full level of inventiveness that's held in check by his tenuous political situation. It remains an attractive work, full of the energy and idiosyncrasies that make Prokofiev Prokofiev. Mstislav Rostropovich, at whose urging the composer wrote the piece, a radical re-working of an earlier concerto, gives a vibrant and authoritative performance, making its outrageously virtuosic demands sound effortless. The cello concerto by Nikolay Myaskovsky is a far less conflicted work, more song-like and conventional than the Prokofiev, and while it may lack the originality and spark for it to become a repertoire standard, its gentle lyricism makes it an appealing work. The album closes with Rostropovich playing Rachmaninov's Vocalise with all the passion and restraint that a truly memorable performance of it requires. The sound of the Prokofiev is clear and full, but there is enough background noise in the Myaskovsky to be distracting.

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