When Jacqueline du Pre (1945-1987) made this recording in 1970 with her husband Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, she was already one of the most-famous and most-accomplished cellists in the world. However, although Ms. du Pre's Dvorak performance is good, it probably isn't one of her signature recordings. Still, if you like the sound, which admittedly takes a little getting used to, the new remastering does more with it than ever before.
British cellist Jacqueline du Pre (1945-1987) began studying the cello at age five, winning the first of many awards at age eleven, followed by television and concert appearances. (Her formal debut was at Wigmore Hall, London in March 1961, when she was sixteen.) Then came the recording career, and the rest, as they say, is history. She met and married pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim in the mid Sixties, and they appeared destined for mutual stardom, an ideal musical couple. The present recording is one of the fruits of that partnership. Unfortunately, her last public appearance would be in 1973 due to multiple sclerosis, her promising career ending shortly thereafter.
Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 rather late in life (1895), the work since becoming one of the most-popular cello concertos of all time. It's popularity has been so enduring that practically every major cellist in the world has recorded it, with the likes of Mstislav Rostropovich (DG), Yo-Yo Ma (Sony), Pierre Fournier (DG), Leonard Rose (Sony), Gregor Piatigorsky (RCA), Lynn Harrell (RCA), Pablo Casals (EMI and Dutton Labs), Paul Tortelier (EMI/Warner), Rafael Wallfisch (Chandos), Truls Mork (EMI/Warner), Maurice Gendron (Philips or HDTT), and Janos Starker (Mercury) heading up a lengthy list. Ms. du Pre's version, then, finds itself in heady company.
Because the concerto contains an abundance of attractive melodies, it gives the soloist and orchestra ample opportunity for displaying bravura, nuance, sensitivity, and a little sentimentality, all of which Ms. du Pre handles well, with her characteristic flair. Barenboim and the orchestra contribute to their parts with an equal zeal and enthusiasm.
|Jacqueline du Pre|
In the Finale, we find more heroics and more pensiveness from both the soloist and the orchestra than we heard previously from them. Dvorak apparently wanted the soloist and orchestra to work on equal terms, and certainly du Pre, Barenboim, and the orchestra each contribute their fair share to the whole, producing a fittingly zesty yet reflective conclusion to the proceedings.
Accompanying the concerto is Dvorak's Silent Woods (1883), originally written for piano and later transcribed for cello and piano and then cello and orchestra. It's a beautifully sweet, lyrical piece, which I enjoyed immensely. Perhaps this is because the music so aptly suits the instrument, or perhaps it's because Ms. du Pre so appropriately expresses the meditative mood of the piece.
Producer Peter Andry and engineer Carson Taylor made the recording for EMI at the Medinah Temple, Chicago, Illinois in November 1970. Tohru Kotetsu remastered the recording for ARC at the JVC mastering Center, Japan, using the latest XRCD24/K2 processing for maximum fidelity CD playback.
A hallmark of the recording is its clarity. The orchestral sound is well detailed, but at the expense of some upper midrange hardness and brightness and some small lack of upper-bass warmth. (To be fair, this is a sound from the Chicago Symphony I've heard in other recordings, so it may be a condition of the orchestra and hall and not the recording.) Nevertheless, the new remastering sounds good and better than I have heard it. Then after that long introduction I mentioned earlier, the cello enters, and it's practically on top of us. The instrument sounds good, mind you--warm, mellow, and rich--just unnecessarily close and nothing like what one might hear in any real concert. What's more, the cello's entrance points up the wide dynamic range of the recording because it's quite a bit louder than the preceding orchestral preface.
Frankly, because I have never thought of the sound of this recording as audiophile material, I have to wonder why ARC/JVC chose to remaster it so meticulously. That said, for listeners who already enjoy the performance and want to hear it reproduced from the best possible source, the disc may be worth its asking price.
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To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: