Hywel David, London
I was fortunate in being lucky enough to hear Jacqueline du Pré several times in the late 1960s and at the start of the 70s (the downside of confessing this is that this makes me somewhat old). In wracking my brains to remember all her concerts, I think I was fortunate to hear her play six or seven times. Much has been written about her Elgar and Schumann concerti and, ironically, I never heard her play these works.
On the chamber music front, I heard du Pré and Barenboim play the complete Beethoven works for cello and piano over two Mondays at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1969. The rapture that passed between the two of them was something quite amazing to behold. They appeared to create an intimate language that was natural to the two of them but a language that they effortlessly and generously shared with a vast audience in a large space. The slow movement of the final sonata had a poise and gravitas that surely must have been rare in such young artists. The Mozart variations were heavenly with delicious touches from them both.
One of the most exciting performances I heard her give was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the summer of 1969. It was, again, Barenboim conducting the English Chamber Orchestra. It was the first time I ever heard Mozart's 'Gran Partita' for 13 Wind Instruments which was sublime in itself (they encored the last movement). Jackie played the Ibert Concerto for Cello and Winds. It was stunning and she had a sense of daring similar to that of the pianist Martha Argerich - no safety net. The great Schumann scholar and writer Joan Chissell reviewed it in The Times. I can remember her writing something along the lines of the way du Pré ended the cadenza and linked back into the tutti was one of the most electrifying and thrilling things she had ever heard. It was really fabulous stuff, live music at its incomparable best. This was the same South Bank Summer Music festival year as 'The Trout', and as you've all seen the film of that, there is no need to add anything other than it was like being at a fabulous party.
Towards the end of her playing career I heard a Dvorak Concerto at the Swansea Festival in the early 70s. This was an artist heading towards maturity as her reading had such splendour and confidence about it. Prior to this I had heard her play the work on the television in 1968 for a Barenboim-organised protest concert marking the Russian invasion of what used to be Czechoslovakia. She had such attack at the start of the last movement that she broke a string and had to leave the platform to re-string the instrument. It, of course, added an amazing tension to an already tense occasion.
That same year (1968) Andre Previn became Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and at his first official concert du Pré played the Saint-Saens A Minor Concerto and Bloch's 'Schelemo' at the Royal Festival Hall. I travelled up to London from Wales with my mother to hear this concert as a treat. I was 17. We sat on the front row and to say I was in seventh heaven was an understatement. At that age I was mad about Bartok, Prokofiev, Britten, Shostakovich, Hindemith and the like so the Bloch was just such a joy to hear. The Saint-Saens bubbled like champagne, but the Bloch was sublime. It remains the one and only time I have heard it live and I'm guessing that I will not hear it again as it is the score that she was beyond compare in. I get the impression that the piece is not in vogue at the moment as I've never noticed it on concert programmes in London of late. I don't know if there are any pirate recordings of her play this score but it was gorgeous and wild at the same time. Of all the scores she didn't record commercially I can vouch that this must be in the top three along with (arguably) the Brahms Double Concerto.
I'm uncertain about pinpointing dates accurately, but circa 1971 she had taken a year off to rest as something along the lines of 'nervous exhaustion' had been diagnosed prior to the final diagnosis of multiple sclerosis being confirmed. At the Royal Albert Hall the evening was billed as a 'comeback' concert. Those of you that know the hall will know that chamber music doesn't settle very naturally in that daft space but du Pré and Barenboim enchanted us with the Brahms E Minor, Beethoven a A Major and the Franck sonatas. Looking back with the aid of hindsight, how poignant and tragic that evening proved to be.
A final thing to add is that du Pré's concerts were always packed with other musicians. I can remember seeing Janet Baker, Clifford Curzon, John Ogdon, Stephen Kovacevich to name a few but I have a clear memory of huge turn outs of her peers as well as her fans.
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If you have a personal recollection of a concert or a meeting with Jacqueline,
please let me know. Thank you.