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Jacqueline Du Pré's Musical Stories
Sergei PROKOFIEV
(1891-1953)
Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67 (1936)1
Leopold MOZART (1719-1787) Cassation in G for Orchestra and Toys2
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935) L’Apprenti Sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) (1897)3
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) Danse macabre, Op.40 (1874)4
Jacqueline du Pré (narrator)1; Luben Yordanoff (solo violin)4
English Chamber Orchestra1,2; Orchestre de Paris/Daniel Barenboim3,4
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, October, 1979 (Prokofiev, Mozart); Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, January, 1977 (Dukas); Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, October, 1980 (Saint-Saëns).   ADD.
Deutsche Grammophon Eloquence 480 0475 [68:46]
Experience Classicsonline

 

The chief appeal of this reissue will be sentimental.  By the time this recording of Peter and the Wolf was made, Jacqueline du Pré, who had made her reputation with a recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto with Barbirolli, still one of EMI’s best-sellers in its GROC reissue (5 62886 2 – see review), was too ill with MS to perform in public.  Her Elgar is soulful – too soulful for some, my wife included, who finds that it moves her intolerably – so it’s hardly surprising that the illness which deprived her of the chance to perform, and which eventually killed her, became an object of public interest.  That Eloquence wish to play the sentimental card – not that there’s any harm in that – is apparent from the picture on the front cover of Jacqueline du Pré surrounded by Disney-like images of Springtime.

Versions of Peter and the Wolf come in many flavours, some of them playing on their narrator’s comedic reputation, some avuncular, others straight and rather didactic.  Du Pré’s narration falls between the two latter categories - though I’m not quite sure what the feminine equivalent of ‘avuncular’ is: since avunculus strictly means one’s maternal aunt, I suppose the word should be derived from matertera, a maternal aunt.

I’m not sure, however, how well today’s children will take to heavy diction, unhurried even in the livelier passages, which must already have seemed old-fashioned in 1979, sounding like pre-war BBC received pronunciation with the addition of heavily rolled rs.  This is fair enough when the wolf looks ‘with grrreedy eyes’, but the effect does become wearing.  Today’s children may well prefer something more like Sting with the COE and Abbado (DG 429 396 2); otherwise the orchestral performance compares well with the best and the recording wears its years lightly enough.

Couplings for Peter are varied; the works which accompany it here are as appropriate as any.  Some years before this recording, du Pré had appeared on stage playing the drum in Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony so, although she doesn’t narrate in this work, this, too, was part of her legacy.  The Cassation for Orchestra with Toys, three movements of which were once attributed to Haydn, is here played in full; it’s a fun, if hardly substantial, piece and it receives a fun performance here.  It’s probably more fun for children to play in than for them to listen to but, even so, I imagine that its inclusion will add to the appeal of the reissue.  There’s little point in comparing it in detail with Ton Koopman’s performance on a CD of music by Mozart senior which includes the Peasant’s Wedding (From Kindersinfonie to Bauernhochzeit, Challenge Classics CC72189 – see review).

To the Prokofiev and Leopold Mozart contents of the original LP, Eloquence have added substantial fillers, which bring the playing time to a respectable 69 minutes.

I suppose that the unconscious benchmark recording of L’apprenti sorcier for most of us has to be the Stokowski soundtrack of the Disney film with Mickey Mouse as the apprentice.  My own earliest recordings were by Ansermet and Solti, both Decca demonstration recordings in their day.  The Ansermet resurfaced on CD in the company of the Ralph Richardson/Malcolm Sargent version of Peter on Decca’s erstwhile budget Weekend label.  No doubt that Ansermet version will reappear in due course in Eloquence’s series of reissues of his recordings and the Solti also deserves to reappear (on Eloquence, too?), perhaps with its original coupling, the Rossini-Respighi ballet La Boutique fantasque, last seen as the filler to Decca’s Weekend reissue of Ansermet’s complete Nutcracker.  Perhaps Eloquence will reissue that very deserving version of the Nutcracker, too.

Barenboim is a little slower than Ansermet - and, to the best of my memory, Solti - which makes him for my money just a little too slow and deliberate by comparison – everything is in place and it’s quite exciting at times, but it doesn’t quite come off.  The DG recording was hailed as outstanding in its day and it still sounds well; indeed, I’m surprised that a DG recording of this date was not made in DDD.

The performance of Danse Macabre, originally released on the same LP, has most recently been available coupled with Barenboim’s classic 1976 performance of the Saint-Saëns Third (Organ) Symphony on DG Galleria 415 847-2. The latter is still available and less expensive than the identical programme on DG Originals 474 612 2.  It’s much better played than the version by Alexander Gibson on another Eloquence CD, Witches’ Brew (442 9985) and it benefits from being a little faster, though it is a little lacking in the more macabre elements.  Children love the macabre, as witness their fascination with dinosaurs, and they may well not relish the quality of the playing but prefer something just a little more ghoulish.  The recording, again, still sounds well.

The notes in the Eloquence booklet, by Raymond Tuttle, are more than adequate and the overall presentation is attractive, if you don’t mind the slightly kitsch cover.  I’m sure that this reissue will sell well, and deserves to sell well, at its very tempting price.  There’s nothing seriously amiss here; I just wish that I could have been a little more enthusiastic about it.
 
Brian Wilson
 


 


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