I first met Rostropovitch in the ‘fifties; it was during some recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Kingsway Hall, London. He was thinnish, of medium height, wearing glasses, and with thinning hair going grey even then at his age, about thirty I would say. His body was bent (like many bassists and ‘cellists) caused by practicing their instrument for hours.
He told us about his his dacha back home, outside Moscow, and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, a singer, with whom he was much in love. He was also an accomplished pianist and often accompanied her.
We recorded some concerti and also Tchaikovsky’s Rococco Variations for ‘cello and orchestra. Towards the end of this piece there is a frightfully difficult passage of double stopping, i.e. playing on two strings at the same time, and everyone was tense, because we all knew that this was one of the most difficult tests for the ‘cello, but Rostropovitch just sailed through it and made a faultless “take”, and that was that!
A few years later, the London Symphony Orchestra asked if I would like to play a series of concerts with him at the Royal Festival Hall, I jumped at the chance, because he was going to play all of the known concerti ever written for the ‘cello. Even today, I have heard some ‘cellists remark what a wonderful feat it was. Shortly afterwards he sent me a diary, which I have kept to this day; inscribed in it is the message “To Robert Meyer with warm gratitude, Mitislav Rostropovitch”
He was a very highly strung, sensitive man. Although I was not present at the time I know this story is true because it was gossiped about by so many musicians. He was very friendly with Benjamin Britten and there had been some argument between them – about what, I have forgotten. Anyway, they were appearing in Liverpool, I believe, and Rostropovitch took off and later was found by a search party staying at a cheap boarding house, but I understood that all was made aright in the end.
He was one of the “greats” and will be sorely missed.