I have heard sober-minded people argue that Elgar’s Cello Concerto played by Jacqueline du Pré is the single greatest instrumental performance of any piece of music, any genre, any instrument, ever. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the claim is not crazy at all. Fortunately for us, it was captured beautifully, sound and pictures too.
Du Pré was an interesting character, torn away from the world of music in mid-life by multiple sclerosis. She led a colorful life, and I really enjoyed the 1998 biography by her sister Hilary, A Genius in the Family: An Intimate Biography of Jacueline du Pré (also sold as Hilary and Jackie) but I see it’s at least semi-out of print; keep your eyes open in used bookstores.
In an earlier blog piece I wrote: “You can get her landmark recording, with her fiancé Daniel Barenboim conducting, on any number of different CDs, and I can’t imagine not owning it. Aside from the fact that it’s one lovely tune after another, the remarkable combination of Elgar’s clever writing, Du Pré’s explosive tone, and some very clever conducting create a remarkable illusion that on a few occasions, she’s playing louder than the rest of the orchestra put together; it’s something to hear.”
I have this performance on a collection named Impressions, which I highly recommend. All of it is fine, but it’s the first movement of the Elgar that will grab you by the heart and not let go for a second.
Links · Spotify playlist. The first movement on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Now, we are blessed in that you can watch her play on YouTube. Sit down and fasten your seat-belt. In the biography, I read that after each tour, Ms du Pré had to take her cello into a luthier for rebuild and repair because she more or less wrecked it with the intensity of her playing. Watch this and you can see why.