Classical Music Legends: David Mellor's Choice

For Classic FM’s Classical Music Legends Day, David Mellor showcases some of the legendary musicians he was lucky enough to see in concert or meet in person.

Wednesday 7 August is Classic FM’s Classical Music Legends Day. Here David Mellor makes a personal selection of a few of the 20th century's greatest musicians - all of whom he was lucky enough to see in concert or meet in person. 

“All of them are as fresh in my mind as if I saw them yesterday afternoon,” says David.

David Oistrakh (1908-1974)

One of the preeminent violinists of the 20th century, the Russian Oistrakh was the dedicatee of numerous great works, including both of Shostakovich's violin concertos, and one by Khachaturian

David Mellor says: ‘I don’t think anybody ever went to an Oistrakh concert without thinking it was simply wonderful. How tireless this man was, how big his tone was, but how sensitive a musician he was. A true legend.’

More from David Mellor on Oistrakh

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)

Considered by many to have been one of the greatest cellists of all time, Rostropovich gave the premieres of more than 100 pieces, forming long-standing friendships and artistic partnerships with such composers as Shostakovich, Prokofiev and especially Benjamin Britten.

David Mellor says: ‘Rostropovich had the courage to stand up to the Soviet authorities and, in the end, had to leave the Soviet Union because he was regarded as just beyond the pale. One of my memories of Rostropovich was in 1968 when Czechoslovakia had just been invaded and, ironically, a Russian orchestra was playing at the Royal Albert Hall. And what where they playing? The Cello Concerto by a great Czech composer Dvorak. I still remember Rostropovich playing with tears streaming down his face. It was a remarkable moment.’ 

More from David Mellor on Rostropovich:

Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989)

The Austrian principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for 35 years, von Karajan sold an estimated 200 million records.

David Mellor says: ‘I heard him a lot of times. Everything he touched had something special about it and the Berlin Philharmonic under him was the most refined orchestra in the world. Some people thought too many of the rough edges of the music were buffed off; I say nonsense! The Berlin Philharmonic in its prime under Karajan was a wonderful thing.’

More from David Mellor on Karajan

Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)

One of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, the Russian Richter was celebrated for his virtuosity and vast repertoire.

David Mellor says: ‘There’s no doubt about it – he was capable of doing the most physically exciting pianism that any of us would ever hear.’

More from David Mellor on Richter

Jacqueline Du Pré (1945-1987)

Particularly associated with Elgar’s Cello Concerto, the career of the outstanding British cellist Jacqueline du Pré was cut short by multiple sclerosis.

David Mellor says: ‘I saw her last recital in this country before her illness drove her into early retirement. I can still see her as if it was yesterday. It was a spectacle unlike anything else I have ever seen on a concert platform and I don’t expect to see it again.’

More from David Mellor on Jacqueline Du Pré

Clifford Curzon (1907-1982)

A pianist who disliked recording, Curzon was celebrated for his interpretations of Mozart and Schubert.

David Mellor says: ‘Clifford Curzon was very shy and a perfectionist. It was once said of him that he’d work on 19 different ways of playing a particular phrase only to settle as a temporary expedient on a 20th.’

More from David Mellor on Curzon

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

The great Italian operatic tenor who also crossed over into popular music, Pavarotti became one of the most commercially successful opera stars of all time.

David Mellor says: ‘We spent some happy times together. I remember one evening at the Italian Embassy - it was the height of his fame and there were so many of his admirers around wanting to talk about music. But all he wanted to talk about was  football! Fortunately I was about the one person there who knew about football and we had a great time together.’

More from David Mellor on Pavarotti

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977)

One of the leading conductors of the early and mid-20th Century, Stokowski is best known for his long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra and for appearing in the film Fantasia.

David Mellor says: ‘Stokowski was born in Marylebone in 1882 and studied at the Royal College of Music and at Oxford before leaving for the United States. In 1912, he returned to Britain to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in a long programme. Sixty years later, he returned as a man of 90 and conducted the exact same programme at the Royal Festival Hall, standing up throughout.’

David Mellor continues his story of Stokowski

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973)

A legendary German conductor and composer who persevered through severe physical and mental health issues.

David Mellor recalls seeing Klemperer conducting Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony shortly before the conductor died.

David Mellor recalls Otto Klemperer