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EVEN TRUMPS THE FAMOUS EMI RECORDING,
This review is from: Cello Concerto/Cello Suites Nos. 1 And 2 (Barbirolli, Bbcso) (Audio CD)
The Elgar Cello Concerto from Jackie du Pre and Barbirolli? What on earth do we need another version of that for? The EMI recording with the same soloist and conductor has been an acknowledged classic of the gramophone from the moment it first appeared. And there's already another version with du Pre and her husband, Daniel Barenboim if you really need an alternative.
But no. Testament are absolutely right to have brought this live performance in Prague out of the BBC archives. The EMI performance is already testament to the unique rapport between soloist and conductor, but this performance from a couple of years later takes it all a stage further, particularly in the context of a live concert where even greater `liberties' could be taken. At so many points in the score it is impossible to tell who is leading who - they are as one in the flexibility of tempi and the rubato of both orchestra and solo cello (Barbirolli had himself played the solo part in his youth). The famous du Pre passion is there in spades, but there are also many examples of restraint too - more that in the studio recordings - which make the highpoints seem all the higher. The give and take in the first movement is exceptional, the lightness of touch in the second, broadening magnificently for the big tune, unparalleled in my experience. The slow movement always was the heart of a Barbirolli/du Pre performance and never more so than here. The cello sings with, when required, huge tone or a unique fining down to a mere thread of sound and, more to the point, incredible depth of feeling. Portamenti and glissandi, always favoured by Barbirolli in Elgar's music as by the composer himself, are used with great sensitivity to dig deep into the soul of the music. The finale captures the contrast of rhythmic drive and personal communing perfectly, carrying through to that amazing coda where tragedy and reconciliation seem to co-exist on the highest plane of communication.
Yes, there are the occasional moments of ragged ensemble which would probably have been corrected in a studio recording, but they are far outweighed by rewards of music-making of the highest order.
The fill-ups - substantial ones - are the first two Bach Cello Suites and they are not on quite such an elevated plane as the Elgar. These performances date from much earlier in du Pre's career (she was only sixteen) and have appeared on CD before. They are well worth hearing but, is has to be said, she found much more to them later on. They are more than a little self indulgent in a rather adolescent way, prone to slow tempi, always searching out the depths of the music at the expense of its dance origins. One of those cases where more is less.
Nevertheless, the CD is well worth its price for the Elgar alone, a masterly live performance from Barbirolli and du Pre that succeeds in trumping even their much-loved EMI recording.