COMPOSERS: Elgar & Bach
ALBUM TITLE: Elgar & Bach
WORKS: Cello Concerto
PERFORMER: Jacqueline du Pré (cello); BBC SO/John Barbirolli
CATALOGUE NO: SBT 1388
This 1967 BBC recording of a live concert in Prague occurred at one of the happiest times in du Pré’s life: she had just met Daniel Barenboim and fallen in love. Certainly, it is lit with an almost visionary Romanticism: time stands still in the hushed final coda, conductor and soloist conspiring to create an unforgettable transformation. But du Pré’s rubato can be overdone: Barbirolli has to wait so long for her to reach her top E in the first movement that the orchestra tumbles in before she does. She nearly loses the orchestra in a wiry Allegro Molto, but regains poise in a ravishing slow movement. Du Pré’s Elgar has an epic weight missing from many modern interpretations: she squeezes every last drop from the piece. (Yo-Yo Ma’s austere, swifter, but just as moving, reading is a fine example of the later approach).
This does not replace the famous 1965 version with Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra, which has the visionary eloquence without ragged entries, intonation flaws and coughs. Nevertheless, the Prague audience knew they were in the presence of a maestra: she clearly felt their enchantment and spun out the
magic a little longer.
The same cannot be said of her Bach on this disc: these are definitely student readings, recorded in a BBC studio when du Pré was only 17.
Her robust, whole-hearted musicality is in evidence, but there’s a rasping roughness to her gut-strung sound, and heavy bowing stifles the sense of dance. There is also a lack of tempo and timbral variety, to which we become accustomed thanks to Anner Byslma and his ilk. Helen Wallace