Mischa Maisky

Music is a strong tradition in Mischa Maisky’s family. His elder brother and his sister play the violin and piano respectively; his own daughter Lilly (b.1987) is a concert pianist, and his son Sascha is embarking upon a career as a violinist. Maisky began cello lessons aged eight, forming a family trio with his brother and sister. He gained a place first at the Children’s Music School in Riga, then the Riga Conservatory and at seventeen travelled to Leningrad to continue his studies there. He was later invited by Rostropovich to study with him in Moscow.

Following imprisonment in a Gorky labour camp for purchasing a black-market tape recorder, Maisky was permitted to emigrate to Israel after his military service with the proviso that he reimburse the Soviet government for the cost of his education. In 1972 the Mayor of Jerusalem managed to obtain money on his behalf for him to go to the USA where he was engaged by Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta for a tour with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. After a concert at Carnegie Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under William Steinberg, Maisky was approached backstage by a gentleman in a wheelchair who was so impressed by his playing that, remarkably, he gave him a Montagnana cello! In the US Maisky took lessons from Piatigorsky, becoming his final student and giving Maisky the distinction of being the only cellist known to have had both Piatigorsky and Rostropovich as teachers.

In recent times Maisky has performed duo sonata repertoire with pianist Martha Argerich. He has made over fifty recordings on the EMI and Deutsche Grammophon labels, gaining a Grand Prix du Disque for his 1985 Bach Cello Suites. His performances here indicate a fiery musical bearing and a considered musical intellect. This is outworked especially pleasingly in works such as the 1915 Debussy Sonata in D minor (recorded 1981), in which Maisky fits well with Debussy’s experimental and quasi-improvisatory musical textures. The Rachmaninov Op. 19 Sonata, in a live 2005 Lugano Festival performance, is also very characterful. There is flexibility and fluidity of tone (even though the occasionally very wide, slow vibrato may not be to everyone’s taste) and a ravishingly beautiful slow movement. It is perhaps a shame that Maisky takes a more accentual than lyrical approach to the indulgently febrile finale, but this is nevertheless a fine performance.

The Beethoven Triple Concerto with Capuçon and Argerich (2002, live at Lugano again) is a very strong rendition, very much in the modern mould, distinguished by a wonderfully atmospheric slow movement and energetic finale. Maisky’s Bach Suites display well his considered approach to the repertoire. Modern taste dictates, perhaps, that the 1999 set is more varied stylistically with (as in the Suite No. 4 selected) faster and more flexible tempi and clearer delineation of phrases and textures. The 1985 version makes for an interesting comparison: the recording is closer and Maisky’s sound richer and more incisive, but the tempi are very much on the slow side.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)