This is not a review.

How could one begin to evaluate the life and music of Mstislav Rostropovich in a few paragraphs in the context of a blog DVD review.

I cannot.

Suffice for me to encourage any and all lovers of great music to consider acquiring the just released NAXOS DVD MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH L’ARCHET INDOMPTABLE (The Indomitable Bow).

In this film documentary by Bruno Monsaingeon, black and white film clips of Rostropovich, von Karajan, Menuhin, Vishnevskaya, Casals, Kempf, Dutilleux, Britten, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Messiaen, Penderecki, Britten, Hindemith and other 20th century musicians are interspersed with interviews with the family and friends of Rostropovich.

There are documentary clips of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, of the Rostropovich family’s return to their country of birth. Filmed conversations with the cellist himself bypass chronological order yet create a vivid picture of one of the great musicians of our time who became  one of the great pacifist political dissidents of the 20th century.

The music in the CD spans the centuries. We hear snippets of compositions created for Rostropovich by Dutilleux, Britten, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Messiaen, Penderecki, Britten, and Hindemith, played or conducted by Rostropovich with his unequalled energy and impeccable technique. We are treated to his all encompassing music making, playing the cello, playing the piano, conducting, accompanying his beloved wife Galina Vishnevskaya in recital, coaching young cellists.

To hear other musicians speak of him, love him, embrace him, clown around with him, fete him is extremely touching and revealing of the affection so many had for this little giant of a man.

Elsewhere in the film there are many details on the brother-like friendship between the cellist and Solzhenitsyn. Monsaingeon’s cameras close in on Rostropovich’s well lived-in face as he deals with the news that he and his family have been stripped of their Russian citizenship because of their dissident views and their support of the author of The Gulag Archipelago.

The DVD offers a bonus section in which one can watch and listen to Rostropovich play more Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.

This listener is still in awe of Rostropovich’s performance of J.S. Bach’s Sarabande from the Cello Suite no. 2 that brings this wonderful film to a memorable close.

Rafael de Acha