ELGAR Cello Concerto; Sea Pictures – Du Pré
Though both Jacqueline du Pré and Janet Baker were already well established and widely appreciated in 1965, this disc marked a turning point for both of them in their recording careers. With John Barbirolli so warm-hearted and understanding an accompanist to each, these are both in every sense classic performances that can never be replaced.
Jacqueline du Pré’s Elgar has been all the more appreciated, since her tragic illness took her away as a performer. In principle her espressivo may be too freely romantic, but the slow movement and epilogue remain supreme in their intensity, conveying in whispered pianissimos of daring delicacy an inner communion, while the bravura of the brilliant passages remains astonishing from an artist still only 20.
Until this recording, Sea Pictures had tended to be under-prized even among Elgarians; but the passion, intensity and sheer beauty of this performance with each of the five songs sharply distinct rebutted any idea that – in reflection of verse of varying quality – it had anything of sub-standard Elgar in it. It’s a work you’ll probably never be able to listen to again without hearing in your mind Janet Baker’s deeply individual phrasing on this disc. What strikes you most is the central relevance to Baker’s whole career of the last stanza in ‘Sabbath morning at sea’, a radiant climax. ‘He shall assist me to look higher’ says the Barrett Browning poem, and the thrust of meaning as she sings it invariably conveys a frisson such as you rarely get on record.