Dvořák and Ibert Cello Concertos – Jacqueline du Pre
Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor, B. 191 (Op. 104)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Charles Groves
Ibert Concerto for Cello and 10 wind instruments
Michael Krein Orchestra, Michael Krein
Jacqueline du Pré, cello
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4156-2
Total time: 54 minutes
There is a part in Paul Tortelier’s 1987 masterclasses, broadcast on the BBC where he tells a young Clive Greensmith, now cellist of the Tokyo String Quartet, that if he were Jacqueline du Pré, Greensmith would have understood the fingering suggestion that he had shown him for the Dvořák cello concerto. The same year, du Pré would die from multiple sclerosis, having not played the cello publicly for 14 years.
It’s a testament to the English cellist’s greatness that so many years after she played her last notes on the cello, people still wonder how her playing could have developed and what new directions it would have taken.
While we will never know, this recording of the Dvořák, taped ‘live’ from the Proms of 1969 with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Charles Groves, catches du Pré at her absolute prime, excesses and all. It is one of the finest of her recorded performances, and one that all her fans and indeed, all fans of the cello will want to listen to.
Du Pré’s studio reading of the concerto with her husband Daniel Barenboim is well-known, but compare the two and the distinction is clear. Emotionally, this is at a white hot pitch, much more passionate than her well-behaved studio recording. It is a commanding performance, with the cellist in fine form, and she brings the music to life in her inimitable way.
In the second, lyrical theme of the first movement, for example, she sings the theme out in her cello, so broadly that in anyone else’s hands this would be considered wilful. Throughout the performance, she sometimes takes liberties in emphasizing a phrase here, shortening another there, so intuitively that it always seems ‘right’. In the mournful minor segment of the development, the passion and grief is nearly overwhelming, ranging from a rapid hyper-romantic vibrato to nearly vibrato-less playing.
It’s easy to see why she was later criticized for her excesses, her take-no-prisoners sort of playing that incensed some listeners but when she plays off the well-trained orchestra like the well-seasoned performer she already was at this stage of her career – with absolute security, all is forgiven.
In the slow movement, du Pré is poetically moving, although sometimes she does over-play. Tempo variations, always expected in a du Pré performance, are here always stylishly handled. The last, heroic movement, is carried forward with such aplomb that you forget the mortal technical issues that affect most cellists. How I wish this concert had been videoed as well – the feeling of her famously throwing herself about the cello as she did in the Elgar, that sheer athleticism, is almost palpable even in this recording, which only goes to show how hair-raisingly communicative her musicianship really was. When, at the end, the audience cheers, you will want to as well. The recorded sound is more than acceptable for a live recording, and Charles Groves’ rapport with du Pré is something to savour.
The discmate to the Dvořák is Ibert’s cello concerto with ten wind instruments. More a curiousity than a ever a repertoire piece, I felt this didn’t give du Pré the chance to emote as much. The concerto is itself fairly unmemorable, and I suspect it won’t get more than a couple of listens from you. Buy this disc for the Dvořák.
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