In her autobiography Galina Vishnevskay (the Rostropovich’s wife) wrote (translation is mine):
“In Moscow we spent only three weeks, and then by plane we returned to London to participate in the Festival of Soviet Art, just before 21 August 1968 - the opening day of the festival, where Slava was playing with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra Dvorak Cello Concerto. That day I will remember to the rest of my life.
The morning after breakfast we took a walk. On the streets – there were crowds bearing posters: "Russians - Fascists!", "Russians, away from Czechoslovakia!" We were shocked, yet still without the knowledge that the most disgraceful act in the history of our nation took place. We run back to the hotel, turn TV on, and see all stations showing the Soviet tanks are crawling across Prague’s plazas and streets.
So, it is true. As is clear and well seen: the Soviet soldiers have lost and disappointed faces ... Thousands of people are on sidewalks... They did not resist, but how desperate they look to their former brothers! Many are crying, others shouting something, pushing away the steel monsters with bare hands… Then camera moved to other end of the square, and we see several women jointing hands, rushed to the ground - scrolling across the road directly under tanks! I cried in horror. ... But thank you, Lord, the tanks stopped...
Slava, like mad was running around room. - Galina, what can we do? What a shame! Criminals! I am ashamed to go to a concert today. We are Russians, Soviets!
There was also a coincidence: in London, in this tragic for the entire world day - the opening of the Soviet Art festival started with the Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. A few hours later, Slava stepped on the stage of the vast Albert Hall, along with musicians of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. Behind the Hall’s walls the protest was storming, and inside six thousand people met the emergence of Soviet artists with long-lasting shouting, clatter and swish, not allowing the concert to start. Some shouted: "The Soviet fascists go away!" Others - "Shot up, the artists are not to blame!"
Pale and standing like on scaffold, Slava on the stage was taking in the disgrace for his criminal government, I closed my eyes being afraid to raise my head hide myself in a corner of my balcony. But finally the Hall calmed down. As a requiem for the Czech people the Dvorak music started and crying Rostropovich spoke through his violoncello. The Hall hold breath listening the confession of a great artist, the artist who merged in those minutes with Dvorak, with the soul of Czech people, suffering with them, asking the people for forgiveness and praying for them.
I think all who were at the concert will never forget it. As soon the last note was over I ran backstage to Slava. Pale, with quaking lips, has not yet came down from his experience on stage, with eyes full of tears, he grabbed my arm and dragged to the exit: - “Let rush to hotel, I can not see anyone.”
We went out to the street – there were shouting protestants out there, waiting out to express their outrage to the orchestra’s artists. Seeing us both they suddenly turned silent and stepped away before us. In abrupt silence, looking at nobody, feeling ourselves criminals we quickly proceed to an expecting us car and returned to the hotel, finally being able to give ourselves to our despair. But what we can do? We did only what was in our power – we got drunk. This Czech event, unnoticed for ourselves, closed down the book of our erstwhile comfortable life…”
I have my bootleg of this recording. It is in stereo with very poor quality and it came to me on cassette tape. Eventually BBC in their “BBC Legends” has released a commercial recording of this event, it is mono but it is in way better quality then I have. It is not the best Rostropovich’s play of the concert. It is insultingly fast and it has own “kink”. It also futures a phenomenal accompaniment (probably the best I ever heard for Dvorak Cello Concerto) by USSR State Symphony (Svetlavov was conducting). Pay attention how strikingly interesting sounds that super-fast opening of the Concerto. It never was played like this! The rumors are that Russians played fast to scope down the time being on stage as they were afraid to be attacked with stones. Still, the whole play sounds very balanced, very professional and appropriately nervous. No meter what, there is some “tension” in the play of this concert. Hey how many time you heard about a musician going to play at a nation leading concert hall and insisting for a full insurance of his cello right before the performance? Anyhow, it is BBCL 4110-2Rgs, Romy the Cat
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche