IN this second edition of Monday’s Musical Musings, Mrs Wright looks at the iconic recording of Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto in E minor’ by Jacqueline du Pré.
Asking a music teacher to choose one piece for her musical musing inevitably sends one on a journey of musical reminiscences, and got me thinking about early concert experiences – those moments that cemented my love of music. When I was at school, we were lucky enough to attend an EMI-sponsored concert given by Joshua Bell, a phenomenal and inspiring violinist, who had us all on the edges of our seats. However, it was the post-concert goodie bag that ended up being the most powerful for me. Inside was a CD of Elgar’s Cello Concerto and a miniature score. This particular CD, still proudly housed in my collection (despite my use of digital music subscriptions 99% of the time!), introduced me to the legend that was Jacqueline du Pré, and her landmark recording with Sir John Barbirolli and the LSO. The miniature score is now being used by my elder son, my own budding cellist, who is itching to be able to learn the concerto. It certainly was the gift that keeps on giving!
Jacqueline du Pré’s playing on this album had me, at times, wishing that I were a cellist rather than a viola player, although the effortlessness with which she hits her harmonics resonated into my practice and my attempts to replicate that particular aspect of her style! It was her passion and her ‘one-ness’ with the instrument, however, that shone through and had me playing the disc over and over again. I was drawn further into the music, getting to know more Elgar wherever I could, and finding out more about this cellist who so inspired me. I was so sad to read about her battle with MS and her untimely death at the far-too-young age of 42, but also felt linked to her when I discovered that we share a birthday.
When I reflect back on my first few experiences with this concerto, with ‘Jackie’s’ playing, I find it hard to separate out what was most important to me. Was it the fact that she was a woman? Was it the fact that I was already a great lover of English music (as a Suffolk lass, I was brought up on a musical diet of Britten, and I was a big lover of Holst and Vaughan Williams too)? Or was it the combination of composer and performer – Elgar’s great sorrow at the end of World War I channelled through this young cello virtuoso? It is not ‘easy listening’ in my book – the music sweeps you along a journey of deep sadness, of great longing, and of such introspection that one can almost see and feel the devastation that the war caused in those left behind.
To this day, this album remains my favourite recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s recent interpretation coming in a close second. Du Pré’s story has spoken to me in a different way more recently, being inspired by her resilience in doing all she could to play through her progressively debilitating MS as I re-learn how to sing and play through my own chronic pain and illness. Such multiple layers of musical – and life – experience have been so valuable to me that I strongly commend this particular recording to everyone. There is inspiration to be found for every walk of life. Click here to listen to the 1st movement of the concerto: https://open.spotify.com/track/76bzcAMft1MGxK5BCjmA0T?si=0a674496fcfe4a8b&nd=1
If you wish to listen to the full Concerto, click here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0b40AMmZPt7sjgw17WGk1s?si=heNDHx1zRpGUBKKFdZYaPQ&dl_branch=1&nd=1
Also, for budding cellists wanting to learn more about the technicalities of playing the Concerto, have a watch of this short video which is essentially a masterclass in playing the piece.
Our Music Department would love to hear your thoughts on this piece or any of your early concert experiences that have stayed with you. What inspired your love of music? Please email us at MMM@kingsely.org