ELGAR: Cello Concerto in E minor Op. 85; Sea Pictures Op. 37; DELIUS: Songs of Farewell; A Song Before Sunrise; Cello Concerto – Jacqueline Du Pré, cello/ Dame Janet Baker, mezzo in Sea Pictures/ Royal Choral Society, in Songs of Farewell/ London Sym. Orch./Sir John Barbirolli (Elgar sel.)/ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Malcom Sargent (Delius sel.) – EMI Classics Signature Series stereo-only SACD 9 55905 2, Disc 1: 53:54, Disc 2: 50:25 [5/8/12]*****:
What a fine combination of two rather unsuspected discmates! Jacqueline de Pré was one of the greatest cellists ever, and remains an important figure in music via films and recordings although her career was tragically cut short by illness at only age 28. This is her unsurpassed recording in stereo of the Elgar Cello Concerto, and even if you only have one other cello concerto in your collection (hopefully the Dvorak) you must have this one too. She seems to draw emotional content out of the work that no one else has equalled.
This recording was made in 1965; she later made another stereo version with her husband at the time, Daniel Barenboim, conducting. The Christopher Nupen film of her complete performance of the Elgar Concerto was available on laserdisc and is now on a DVD, but both have the mono soundtrack of the original film, though it is wonderful to see De Pré in action. The recording has long been in the Penguin Guide to the Finest Classical Recordings, but the Abbey Road engineers have done a yeoman job in remastering the original tapes to 96k/24-bit for SACD reissue. Dame Janet Backer and the Sea Pictures are nice to have but they don’t hold a candle to the Concerto.
The second SACD brings us three lovely Delius selections, but the real hit here is the Delius Cello Concerto featuring Du Pré as the soloist. The Songs of Farewell make use of five poems of Walt Whitman and are among the composer’s finest choral works. The stereo recording was made in 1964 and is included on the recent 18-CD EMI 100th Anniversary of Frederick Delius reissue set. The enhancement provided by the remastering to SACD is clearly heard on the Signature Series disc, with greater clarity of the chorus and better support from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Did I mention that all these Signature Series sets are priced at mid-level, just like the RCA Living Stereo SACDs of a few years ago were?
This Rolling Stones continue their 60+ year ascendancy with a worthwhile vinyl singles/e.p. collector’s set.