Alban Gerhardt’s sleeve note intro recalls how he played for Rostropovich as a starstruck 11-year-old, who told him that he’d no business playing Haydn’s difficult cello concerto in C: “I was heartbroken, but decided there and then that I wanted to prove him wrong.” Though Rostropovich did later present Gerhardt with a copy of the cadenzas composed for his Haydn performances by Britten. Gerhardt’s anthology is a sweet way of repaying the gift, a collection of 18 short encores, many of them not readily accessible or in print. The mercurial Gerhardt doesn’t set out to ape Rostropovich’s big-boned, effusive playing style, but admits to playing several numbers a touch more slowly, to add a touch of “true Russian soul”. Tracks like Rachmaninov’s Vocalise are sublime, though the most effective of the smoochy Russian tracks is the Adagio from Prokofiev’s Cinderella, and Gerhardt throws in a ravishing account of the Pas de Deux from Stravinsky’s The Fairy’s Kiss. I’d not previously heard Piatigorsky’s transcription of Scriabin’s Étude in B flat minor, or a youthful Oriental Dance by Rachmaninov. They’re both gorgeous.
In fact, this is worth buying purely as a collection of killer tunes. Ravel’s Pièce en forme de habanera is terrific with cello standing in for bass voice, as is Debussy’s Clair de Lune. There’s more from Prokofiev and Stravinsky: the March from the former’s Love of Three Oranges is two minutes of sheer perfection, a louche, witty strut. Rostropovich’s own Humoresque, audibly based on David Popper’s Elfentanz, opens the disc; an exuberant, spiky two-minute molto perpetuo with a wonderful piano part, gamely played by Markus Becker. Rostropovich's unaccompanied Moderato ends proceedings, a soulful, witty waltz. Enormous fun: a disc for cellophiles and cellophobes alike. Excellent sound, and good notes, too.