Archive for July, 2004

J. Haydn: Cello Concerto – du Pré


J. Haydn: Cello Concerto in C
Cellist: Jacqueline du Pré
English Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Recorded in 1967. EMI CMS 7 69707 (2 CDs with four works for cello, by Elgar, Haydn, and Beethoven).

The cello and ICE
In the first two weeks of August, Rio will be the stage for the 10th International Cello Encounter, an extraordinary event put together by David Chew, distinguished cellist and a major influence on the Rio musical scene. Through 62 free concerts in varied venues, you have the chance to hear the cello in all sorts of instrumental combinations and musical forms. Check out for the concerts and indulge!

The cello is the next-to-largest member of the violin family of stringed instruments – the violin, viola, violoncello (usually called a cello) and double-bass. Each one is larger than the preceding one and has a deeper sound. The first two are played tucked under the chin, the double bass is played standing – while the cello is played between the seated player’s knees; it has a long spike on the bottom that adjusts it to a convenient height, and the player’s left hand stops the strings at chest-level. Little wonder that great cellists and their instruments seem to weld into one!

The cello has a full range of sound: from its lowest notes to the highest, there is about the same range as the human voice, from the deep bass to the high soprano. When it is played in the middle range, it somehow seems as if it were speaking directly to you. This feeling is even more pronounced for the player, who commands the sound with the bowing, the fingering, the vibrato – there is such a difference in tone and timbre that can be extracted from even a single note, that playing the cello becomes a very direct personal expression. The influence of leading players and teachers has even created “schools” of sound, distinguished by the subtle differences in tone and the phrasing – for instance the English school is mellow and intimate, the French lighter and flowing, the German more guttural and strong.

When used in the orchestra, the cello, together with the double bass, is responsible for the basso continuo, the bass part which provides the music’s underpinning. Precision and rhythm are important – but when used as a solo instrument, the cello has to leave its background role, and stand out as a soloist, and then attributes like the quality of sound, expressiveness and vigour come to the fore.

Jacqueline du Pré
Jacqueline du Pré was born in Oxford in 1945, and grew up in a solidly middle-class and very musical English family. Receiving her first cello at age 5, she started lessons with William Pleeth in London at age eight. Showing great talent, she started a professional career at 16, and by the time she was 20, was internationally renowned as one of the outstanding cellists. She met Daniel Barenboim playing chamber music with friends, and they were married in 1966. She was then firmly established in the top flight, playing with musicians of the calibre of Perlman and Zukerman, as well as Barenboim. On an early tour to the United States, one critic wrote of her: “We now have a youthful genius from a country noted for its musical restraint, who is leading us back to a richer tradition which admitted that music is the expression of emotion”. The recording that made Jacqueline famous is of Elgar’s Cello concerto – also on this CD – but I have chosen the Haydn concerto, recorded in 1967 in her heyday.

The CD
Franz Joseph Haydn lived from 1732 to 1809, was an amazingly prolific composer, and a major influence on the development of music and of the symphonic form. He taught both Mozart and Beethoven, who admired his music. Haydn’s music is to me perhaps the clearest expression of what is “classical” music. Attractive melodies, carefully moulded phrases, and many ideas (which may even sound commonplace today) expressed with very proper restraint. His cello concerto was written in about 1765, but was lost for almost two centuries, until orchestral parts were discovered in 1961 in a museum in Prague.

The first movement Moderato is introduced by the orchestra, with fine phrasing and tempo….. but when the cello comes in, it is obvious at once that here is a big personality with a lot to say. And within the confines of propriety, she says it with conviction and great musicality. A fine strong, singing tone in the main passages yields to delicate patterns in the variations in the middle, when the bow appears barely to touch the strings.

The slow movement – Adagio – reminds one of the times when time ran slower (and people did things like going to the country for the summer!) Again the orchestra starts the movement stating the theme, and when it begins the repeat, the cello plays a long long note, which gradually grows stronger and emerges as it were from the crowd to have its say. It does this with serenity and beauty, while the orchestra remains in respectful agreement. In the middle, the theme modulates to a darker key, and the voice of the cello sinks to a whisper….. before taking up the main theme again and, passing through a gentle cadenza, draws it to a close.

Allegro molto is so molto fast one wonders whether Jackie will have to swap her cello for a violin. Not a bit of it! Playing high, playing low, she skips around with the most extraordinary agility, not only maintaining the pace, but sometimes driving it on, then backing off, then running forward again, until the music comes to a sudden end. I had no idea it was possible to play the cello like that! But evidently……

The Heritage
After sustaining a highly successful international career for some six years, Jackie stopped recording in 1971, when she felt that a numbness she had been feeling in her fingers for some time was affecting her playing. Next year, at age 27 she stopped performing in public. She was diagnosed as suffering from multiple sclerosis, a progressive disease of the central nervous system. The music world, where she was much loved, was stunned by the thought that she might never play again – and in fact she never did. Confined to a wheelchair, she gave master classes for a time but, in a long and painful process, her health continued to decline, and she died in 1987, at forty-two.

David Chew is one of the people inspired by Jacqueline du Pré to play the cello. David studied with William Pleeth, like Jackie, and the first program of his International Cello Encounter pays tribute to her playing. So the 10th ICE in Rio reflects this heritage, and will be an unparalleled opportunity to hear and appreciate more the splendid sound of the cello.

Good listening!

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