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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Concerto for Violoncello in B minor, Op. 104 (1894-5) [42.41]
Jacqueline du Pré ('cello)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
rec. Royal Albert Hall, 25 July 1969
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Concerto for Violoncello and Wind Instruments (1925) [12.12]
Jacqueline du Pré ('cello)
Michael Krein Orchestra/Michael Krein
rec. BBC Studios, London, 12 February 1962
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4156-2 [54.53]


This issue, at long last, supplies an acceptable performance of the Dvořák concerto to du Pré's commercial discography. In every respect, this 1969 concert aircheck outclasses her EMI studio recording with Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony. The latter has had various CD incarnations: 562 8032, as credited in the booklet, and, Stateside, CDC 47614 and 7243-5-62805, no doubt among others.

The Chicago sessions found du Pré - perhaps already limited by the encroaching symptoms of multiple sclerosis - in dire technical shape, employing a variety of cosmetic swoops and slides to mask an increasingly inaccurate aim. Here, her control is far more consistent, the notes speaking dead center, with just the occasional romantic portamento to warm up the lyric lines. Interpretatively, she plays this one pretty straight, save for a pronounced slowdown for the Finale's second subject. As always, she fills out the musical phrases with a big, heartfelt tone.

The studio version was also hobbled by the peculiarly inept conducting of Daniel Barenboim, who failed to organize the sound of one of the world's great orchestras into auditory coherence. Here, Sir Charles Groves draws the principal themes and counter-themes in sharp focus within the textures, eliciting an airy transparency from the woodwinds very much in the Bohemian spirit. At times, one wishes for more affectionate phrasing - the magical harmonic shift at 1:48 of the first movement, to take one example, passes by essentially unnoticed - but Groves's well-ordered leadership is never less than professionally competent.

As for the engineering, EMI squanders the potential advantage of its multitrack setup by a forward balance of the 'cello, exaggerated to the point of obscuring the orchestral backup. The BBC's clean, relatively ungimmicked stereo sound makes a superior impression, simply because everything can be heard clearly. In fact, the clarinet's clear, soaring line in the Finale's second subject is if anything too prominent, drawing focus from the ’cello.

Ibert's brief concerto doesn't aspire beyond makeweight status. The thematic quotes in its central Romance are the sort of musical humour that doesn't wear well. Otherwise, the music is cheerful and insouciant - Ibert as the faux-Poulenc, casually enjoyable. The booklet note identifies Michael Krein as a "light-music composer and arranger, conductor and expert saxophonist"; "his" wind orchestra, made up of London freelance players, play with character and polish. The monaural sound here is comparatively opaque, but gets the idea across.

Stephen Francis Vasta


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