The occasion was the beginning in Prague of a concert tour of du Pré with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the BBC Symphony. Barbirolli had been one of the first musicians to identify and support du Pré’s amazing abilities, and he was deeply familiar with the Elgar concerto. Du Pré had been regularly performing it with him starting in 1965. Both principles take liberties with the tempi in this recording, and the ebb and flow of the music is increased in emotionality as a result. The live performance is not without some flaws, but it highlights so well the unfettered musical communication of which the ill-fated cellist was capable. Plus it is in excellent stereo sound, whereas the black & white BBC video of the concerto is only mono. [That performance – conducted by Daniel Barenboim – is part of the “Portrait” film by Christopher Nupen on DVD, along with Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio and a documentary on the career and tragic life of the cellist. We reviewed it Here.]
Jacqueline du Pré had only recently met and fallen in love with Barenboim when this recording was made in 1967, and this happy time in her brief life is felt to have brought about an especially marvelous performance of the Elgar. The two Bach suites date from an earlier period and are in mono. Du Pré was only 16 and 17 when these very straightforward, unornamented performances were recorded for the BBC. There is an occasional annoying squeaking sound – perhaps the cello’s peg on the studio floor? – but her great spirit and expressive style is already in strong evidence here.