I just wrote a comment on Scott Spiegelberg’s Rostropovich post, in which he makes some very interesting comments about Rostropovich’s recordings of various Bach Suite movements.
My own favorite recording of “Slava” is that of the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto and the Dutillieux “Tout un monde lointain.” As I noted in my comment on Scott’s blog, both are pieces that would not have existed without Rostropovich, and the performances are extraordinary.
No one in the entire history of the cello has been a bigger force for expanding the repertoire. Rostropovich’s embrace of all musical styles was an important factor. The most important cellist before him, Pablo Casals, hated atonal music and didn’t play it. In his early career, Casals promoted the work of some of his romantic contemporaries, including the now forgotten Emanuel Moor, of whom Casals was a true champion. In his post-WW II life, Casals’s repertoire as both cellist and conductor extended from Bach to Brahms. And once he settled in Puerto Rico and the Casals Festival was established, his Eurocentric perspective led to a virtually total dismissiveness towards Puerto Rican music, creating wounds in that culture which have yet to fully heal.
Gregor Piatigorsky was not as big a name as Casals, but he was a wealthy man, and he could perhaps have done more to commission new works. Piatigorsky did not sell out halls in the way that Casals and later Rostropovich did, and like Casals he was a Romantic who, while more open to atonal music, was not a great champion of it.
Rostropovich, though, had a universalist taste and had the clout to get the many pieces he commissioned and premiered performed and recorded. He probably quadrupled or qunitupled the cello repertoire. And that, 100 or 200 years from now, will turn out to have been his greatest legacy.