Apparently stung by Western criticism of its banishment of virtuoso cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, the Soviet Union yesterday attacked the couple as "hypocrites" who resisted Kremlin requests that they return to their homeland.

Tass commentator Alexie Petrov asserted that Rostropovich. National Symphony music director, and Galina Vishnevskaua, the opera soprano, both had wide freedom of expression here, and listed operas and concerts in which the two performed here during the early 1970s to press his case.

But, he wrote, "for a long time and repeatedly, interviews were held with [the two] at Soviet embassies in the U.S., France, Austria, Denmark and Luxembourg about their return to the U.S.S.R. owing to the expiration of the terms of their visas. They were repeatedly warned of the need to round out their affairs abroad within two to three months and return home. Otherwise, they would put themselves in a position where Soviet competent bodies would have to examine the matter of their citizenship."

Petrov's attack reveals that the Soviets clearly feared Rostropovich would not return of hos own volition, would allow his visa for foreign travel to lapse and then announce why he had done so. Instead of conceding this initiative, the Kremlin moved first, stripping the musicians of their citizenship and calling them "ideological degenerates."

Rostropovich had spoken out in defense of his friend, exiled Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The Petrov attack yesterday also shows that the Soviets tracked Rostropovich's activities very closely during his past four years abroad. The commentator quotes from interviews that Rostropovich gave in West Germany and France, upbraids him for speaking on the Voice of America, and says the cellist gave $35,000 to Continent, a magazine that publishes Samizdat and other unofficial Soviet literature in the West. Petrov claims the couple "organized 63 concerts and gave the royalties to anti-Soviet organizations."

He adds, "Why should the spouses Rostropovich now be showing hypocritical indignation? Indeed, by all their behavior for more than four years, they have actually been asking for it themselves."