Having released a hugely enjoyable Casals encores recording (Hyperion, 9/11), Alban Gerhardt is now back with Rostropovich encores. The first thing to say is that if you’re assuming the two are similar enough in scope for the Rostropovich to be of little additional interest, then think again, because Gerhardt has rung the changes.
For starters, it’s Markus Becker ably accompanying him this time, after Cécile Licad for the Casals. Then there’s Gerhardt’s approach to the project itself, because while with the Casals he simply selected 20 pieces which had appeared on Casals’s own five encore discs, this one is as much a Rostropovich biography as it is a concert programme. He opens with the Humoresque, the extraordinary single breath of technical pyrotechnics Rostropovich composed as a birthday gift to his teacher Semyon Kozolupov. Then, the remainder of the programme’s short pieces aim to display Rostropovich’s tremendous range of musical tastes, from Prokofiev’s strident March from The Love for Three Oranges through to the raindrop-like delicacy of Ravel’s Pièce en forme de habanera. The booklet-notes consolidate this, discussing each piece within the context of Rostropovich’s relationship with it and his career as a whole.
As a result, to explore the tracks on this recording is to explore Rostropovich himself, and Gerhardt’s performances themselves approach this mission in different ways. Take the Humoresque, which, while every bit as direct and vital as on Rostropovich’s recordings, sees Gerhardt mostly eschew Rostropovich’s own deliberate roughness in favour of an equally grabbing fluttering, puck-like finesse. Listen to tracks such as Chopin’s C sharp minor Étude or Rachmaninov’s Oriental Dance, though, and you’ll hear Gerhardt delivering more Russian darkness than he would ordinarily have gone for. All of which makes this a genuinely thoughtful and engaging tribute recital, and a compelling partner to the Casals.