A standing ovation greeted Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich as he arrived on stage last night at the Peristyle. The audience was on its feet again moments after the great master's final notes.
The first ovation acknowledged the myriad accomplishments of this seminal musician who recently turned 75 years old. The second marked formidable performances of Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B Minor and, as an encore, the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite in D Minor.
This was Rostropovich's third appearance with conductor Andrew Massey and the Toledo Symphony in five years.
The cellist has visibly aged over those years, but the playing was as vital as ever.
Indeed, Rostropovich sees his music from all sides and in all colors.
Of course he is the consummate cellist. But decades of work on the podium are apparent as well.
Rostropovich understands the musical and psychological workings of an orchestra. Last night his performance was often taking place at the level of chamber music. He knew just when to push his fellow musicians, just when to let them take charge. When not playing, he often watched them and encouraged with slight movements of head or body.
Communication between all parties on stage was invariably comfortable. Sometimes it was electric.
The orchestra stepped up its playing level a couple of notches to match that of Rostropovich.
The Dvorak concerto is often called Rostropovich's signature piece. In fact, the two go together like old long friends walking arm in arm and reminiscing about lives richly shared. About times happy and sad.
Some stories Rostropovich told in a hushed voice; others he told with the force of a one-man army.
Each approach was totally focused. Each convinced whole-heartedly.
Always, no matter what the volume level, his was a clarion voice that soared over all others. Commanding, coaxing, crying.
All of these were honest emotions that seemed to flow naturally from Rostropovich's artistic vision. Despite the fact that Rostropovich has regularly performed this work for perhaps half a century - that he was skimming the musical surface to sell us a glossy package. The performance was all about the music. An audience could ask for no more.
The evening opened with a lack-luster performance of Mendelssohn's Overture and Incidental Music from A Midsummer Night's Dream.