Rostopovich: A study in Contrasts

By Henry C. Mayer

A study in contrasts" might describe one person's response to the recent Hilliard Lyons Masterworks Concert featuring the world famous and venerable cellist Matislav Rostropovich, particularly for his vigorous and still youthful rendering of the piece which he both co-inspired and, shortly afterwards, premiered half a century ago - Shostakovich's now immortal Cello Concerto #1. Written and performed when both composer and virtuoso were in the prime of their youth, the Russian master now in his seventies gained the evident appreciation of a large youthful generation in the audience. Together, he and the Louisville Orchestra, skillfully led by Uriel Segal, ably performed the concerto, which has had few equals. It is only fair also to mention solo horn statements from Kenneth Alhrecht, the orchestra's master of the French horn.

The impact of all this was not lost on the audience. The quality of the performance by all brought a prolonged standing expression of approval and brought back Rostropovich not once but twice. He offered a French saraband which drew another rigorous round of approval.

Not the least of Maestro Rostropovich's talents is his unbelievable memory. This manifested itself very early in his life. Reportedly, it took him a mere four days before he could memorize the present concerto – a feat which practically flabbergasted his friend, its composer.

The concert opened with a scintillating performance of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony. Through a varied and picturesque series of tone portraits, one can recapture the bleakness and beauty of the Scottish countryside as if "one met a body coming thru the rye." One could also feel the indomitable spirit of William Wallace, Robert Bruce and Mary, the Queen of Scots. It was an unforgettable evening.