Notes and Editorial Reviews
As Graham Johnson puts it in a perceptive essay on Britten the Instrumental Accompanist included here instead of conventional analytical notes, Rostropovich was second only to Sir Peter Pears as a Britten catalyst, inspiring some of his finest instrumental works as well as some of his most memorable accompanying. Or should I say partnering, for to quote Johnson again "soloist and accompanist are so well matched, and respect each other so much, that the rigid role-play of leader and follower is joyously over-ruled, turning chamber music into a dramatic experience which suggests the dialogue of two actors".
This is particularly evident in the temperamental caprice of the Debussy sonata, where the range of colour drawn
by Britten from the keyboard, in response to Rostropovich's own, has to be heard to be believed. Their spontaneously attuned rubato throughout, as well as their rhythmic vitality in the finale, are further sources of delight. I certainly thought it a more stylish reading and recording than the fruitier-sounding one of Yuli Turovsky and Luba Edlina (Chandos). There's the same intimate interplay in Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, but just as when I first reviewed this performance 17 years ago, so I still feel they overinterpret details in this engaging little work instead of letting it more often speak for itself. Loving though it all is, their constant rubato as well as very leisurely tempos make it sound more episodic than it does from Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich (Philips), even though they, too, are no slaves to the metronome.
But Rostropovich and Britten are indisputable winners in Schumann's five folk-style pieces (even though No. 2, marked langsam, is questionably fast), much more at one with each other as well as with the "rustic simplicity and strength" (to quote Johnson again) of the music itself. In comparison with Britten, Argerich herself certainly emerges too impulsive—and often too insistent—a pointmaker. As all three works come up as good as new, perhaps even better, on CD, this disc can confidently be hailed as a collector's piece, likely to survive in the gramophone archives for all time.
-- J.O.C., Gramophone [9/1987]
Reviewing original release
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Cello and Piano by Claude Debussy
Mstislav Rostropovich (Cello),
Benjamin Britten (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1915; France
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