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