Although I don’t think I ever heard him play it live, I must have first heard Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No 1 played by Mstislav Rostropovich. I was first asked to play it, however, when I was about 20. I played it very badly, I remember, with a youth orchestra and a terrible conductor. After that, I gave it up for a long time until I started playing it properly. I talked to Rostropovich, a lot – who was the work’s dedicatee and who confirmed the story that he learnt it in four days – but although we talked about many other things, I never really talked to him about playing it. Shostakovich cited the Prokofiev Cello Concerto as an inspiration, but I can’t say I sense much connection. There are some similarities about them however, like the way both use the cello in an ’anti-Romantic’ way. Of course, there are lyrical moments in the Shostakovich, but it’s almost machine-like at times. The writing for the cello feels very anti-Elgar, Dvořák and Schumann, all of which are essentially lyrical works. Perhaps Rostropovich’s absolute determination and dogged resolution as a player had an impact on the way that Shostakovich wrote it. There’s certainly a
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