Terrific remastering of essential recording by a unique and irreplaceable artist. 

“Remembering Jacqueline Du Pre” = HAYDN: Cello Concerto in C, Hob. VIIb:1; DELIUS: Cello Concerto, RT VII/7; ELGAR: Cello Concerto in e, Op. 65 – Jacqueline Du Pre, cello/ English Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim/ Royal Phil. Orch./ Malcolm Sargent/ London Sym. Orch./ John Baribirolli – Praga Digitals PRD 250 380, 80:09 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] *****:

Those who love the late great cellist Jacqueline Du Pre do so with a jealousy that borders on the obsessive—count me among them. There has certainly never been another cellist—ever—that to my sensibilities equals her startling and innate musicality, coupled with a love of music so deep as to be almost impenetrable. She was one of a kind, who, like so many others with gifts far beyond mere mortals and rarely deserving of them, left this world far too soon.

In this very welcome collection by Praga, which I had hoped would be subjected to the Super Audio treatment but still sound fantastic, we are given two concertos that she virtually defined, and one that is slightly esoteric to the general public, but still remarkable. The latter is the concerto by Delius, once great, but now hardly ever played, which is tragic as its rich sonorities and lyrical lines are tailor-made for the instrument. Du Pre revels in this work, and only its rarity, despite initial success, precludes it from the popularity of other pieces associated with the great cellist.

Haydn’s First Concerto, an Esterhazy composition, lay dormant until its discovery in 1961, and despite some reservations, most scholars accede to the idea that it is indeed by the master. Though he would complete his Second Concerto (in D major) 20 years later, this one already reveals a mastery of form and idiomatic display of the instrument’s possibilities. The early symphonies nos. six, seven, and eight are contemporaneous with it, but don’t let that throw you—this is a work by a true genius, even this early. Du Pre loved it, and the notes seem to emanate from her fingers as if the composer infused his inspiration directly into her.

The Elgar Cello Concerto was completed post World War I, and due to the selfish antics of conductor Albert Coates, who shared the concert with Elgar, rehearsal time was limited, and the premiere was a disastrous sham. It was not successful, and suffered obscurity for two more years before another performance. (Contrast this with his First Symphony, that got 100-plus performances in the first year!) But it wasn’t until this recording, from 1965, that Elgar’s late masterly opus received the attention it merited. It took a dedicated conductor like Barbirolli, and a woman like Du Pre, who found the deep central core of this nobly tragic—and in her case, predictive—masterpiece, and made it not only her signature work, but also one of the greatest recordings in gramophone history. All recordings of this piece are firstly measured against this one, and I can’t imagine it will ever be topped.

The remastering, superb in every respect, and the generous timing make this a can’t miss release.

—Steven Ritter