BBC Legends – Jacqueline du Pré [Elgar Cello Concerto]

0 of 5 stars

Concerto in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op.85
Cello Concerto
Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op.60

Jacqueline du Pré (cello)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Malcolm Sargent [Elgar]
Norman Del Mar

Iris du Pré (piano)

Elgar and Rainier recorded on 3 September 1964 in Royal Albert Hall, London; Rubbra recorded on 6 July 1962 at the Cheltenham Festival

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2008
BBCL 4244-2
Duration: 74 minutes



I should confess that the much-celebrated recording that Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) made of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Sir John Barbirolli (for EMI) has not touched me in the way that it has so many others. I am (and remain) in the minority in doubting it. There are though alternative du Pré versions to her Barbirolli collaboration, not least with Daniel Barenboim (her husband from 1967) conducting.

Now here is another – with Sir Malcolm Sargent, a recording of the third time in three years that they had performed Elgar’s concerto (a work indelibly associated with du Pré) at the BBC Proms. This is a lovely performance, intense (without being overwrought) and from the heart, a very persuasive account (even when some bumps and scratchiness appear), and with much success too for Sargent who leads a detailed, lyrical and emotional accompaniment that seems ideally complementary to du Pré’s inimitable way with the solo part.

The stereo recording is good, too, really suggestive of the Royal Albert Hall, and with a good natural balance between soloist and orchestra. It remains the case that du Pré sometimes misses the privacy and stoicism of Elgar’s lament, but her intense identification with what she finds in the score is perhaps best served by this particular performance, caught on the wing and building on those past two accounts with Sargent.

The other works on the disc are less-well-known – and hopefully du Pré’s enduring popularity will introduce them to a wider public, for both are of very worthwhile quality. Priaulx Rainer (1903-86) wrote her 20-minute concerto for du Pré to a BBC commission and the premiere took place in the same concert as the Elgar, Norman Del Mar (always up for a first performance) now conducting.

It’s a prickly work to be sure, but beneath the modernist gestures and high degree of dissonance there is a lyrical work trying to escape. Rainier seems to have really appreciated who she was creating the work for: the writing for the cello seems ideal for du Pré (“never an enthusiast for the new” – Tully Potter), save she played it just this once. A shame, for it is a good and engaging work, which du Pré certainly plays with dedication (and after several sessions with the composer), the complexities of the orchestral writing well dealt with under the sympathetic Del Mar. A valuable recording.

So too is that of the Rubbra, the pianist being Jacqueline’s mother. This is Rubbra the rigorous melodist, the opening grave statement immediately arresting the listener: music of eloquence written for William Pleeth, du Pré’s teacher. Hers is devoted playing, appreciating the ‘baroque’ figuration of the first movement, both musicians assured of its burgeoning emotionalism.

After a scurrying scherzo, the heart of the 25-minute Sonata is the concluding Theme and Variations, a long, slowly evolving statement that seems endlessly unchanging (if fascinating) save one demonstrative outburst. This is very personal music, maybe sounding more austere than it might due the recording (perfectly good) being in mono. Nevertheless, du Pré (under Pleeth’s tutelage), together with her mother, seem particularly attuned to Rubbra’s potentially profound writing. It completes a very desirable and thoughtfully compiled programme.

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