Thursday, 13 June 2013

Rare performances from Jacqueline du Pré and Bruno Leonardo Gelber on a historic release from Audite

Whilst the name of the great British cellist Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) is known to everyone who has at least a passing interest in classical music, the name Bruno Leonardo Gelber (b. 1941) will be less known. I remember hearing this Argentinian pianist some years ago in a Chopin Piano Concerto and remember being completely bowled over by his playing.

Little needs to be said about the career of Jacqueline Du Pré . She was born in Oxford, England, studied under the cellist William Pleeth, participated in a Pablo Casals masterclass and undertook short-term studies with Paul Tortelier in Paris. Du Pré made her Wigmore Hall debut in March 1961, at age 16, playing sonatas by Handel, Brahms, Debussy and de Falla, and a solo cello suite by Bach. Her concerto début was on 21st March 1962 at the Royal Festival Hall playing the Elgar Cello Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Rudolf Schwarz. Her brilliant career was tragically cut short, in the early 1970’s, by the onset of multiple sclerosis. Du Pré died in London on 19th October 1987 at the age of just 42.

Bruno Leonardo Gelber was born in Buenos Aires, of Austrian and French-Italian parents. His father was a violinist and his mother a pianist. He made his first public appearance at age five and later studied with Vincenzo Scaramuzza. At the age of fifteen he played the Schumann Concerto under Lorin Maazel. He later studied with Marguerite Long in Paris and went on to win 3rd Prize in the Long-Thibaud Competition. Gelber has played under the direction of conductors such as Ferdinand Leitner, Klaus Tennstedt, Eric Leinsdorf, Kurt Masur, Sergiu Celibidache, Sir Colin Davis, Charles Dutoit, Bernard Haitink, Lorin Maazel, Mstislav Rostropovich, Riccardo Chailly, Christophe Eschenbach and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Both of these fine artists are brought together on a new release from Audite who are celebrating their own 40th anniversary this year. Audite have continued to issue historic recordings using original master tapes. On this disc we have Du Pré playing the Schumann Cello Concerto coupled with Gelber playing the Brahms First Piano Concerto. Both are accompanied by the Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berlin conducted by the young Gerd Albrecht (b.1935).


Both of these recordings were made on the same day, live in Berlin. Although the recordings are both mono and have a slightly hollow sound, they come up extremely well and, such is the acoustic, the lack of stereo is hardly noticeable. A special point of interest in the Schumann is that Du Pré adds a third movement cadenza, something not included in her 1968 EMI recording.

Right from the start of the Schumann Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129 you just know that this is something special, with Du Pré drawing so much emotion from the music. But it is not just emotional pull that dominates; it is Du Pré’s sheer technique and bravura that stands out. There is nicely taut and attentive orchestral accompaniment from Albrecht and the Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berlin, seemingly at one with every nuance from Du Pré. Those lovely deep cello notes struck by Du Pre are terrific. The music just sings magnificently and, of course Du Pre’s tone is wonderful. The second movement Langsam is gorgeously done where all of Du Pré’s sonority is matched by Albrecht and his orchestra and in the finale, Sehr lebhaft, Du Pré seems even more to throw her all into the music. The dovetailing of cello and orchestra is brilliantly done.  The substantial cadenza just before the coda is superbly played.

Being something of an admirer of the Bulgarian born pianist, Alexis Weissenberg  (1929-2012) I have always placed his performance of  Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15 with Guilini and the London Symphony Orchestra as the finest currently available. It was with this in mind that I was keen to hear Gelber.

Gerd Albrecht opens with a granite-like maestoso, carefully paced, letting it unfold naturally, like a brooding beast waiting to be unleashed. When Bruno Leonardo Gelber enters there is a lovely flow and swell to the music before it soon builds in some magnificently craggy playing. When it subsides, Gelber is curiously clipped in his phrasing but this only serves to create more tension. There is poetry galore and times when Gelber really lets the music flow forward almost falling over itself. When, halfway through, the opening theme is re-stated, those chords are tremendous, such power and a formidable technique.  Albrecht works so well with Gelber, with some lovely orchestral touches. At times Gelber rivals Weisenberg in his colossal reading.  Albrecht works wonders in the adagio drawing some lovely playing form the RSO, Berlin, such lovely phrasing. Gelber creates a beautiful flow, pushing ahead just enough to create a pull on the music. In this movement, more than anywhere else, Gelber shows his sensitivity and control, with playing of subtlety and poetry. Such is the intensity that he never loses focus and always takes you along with him. In the Rondo allegro, Gelber nicely points up the music with some rhythmically clipped phrasing, building to some fearsomely dramatic playing. The coda is terrific.

The 22 year old Gelber certainly had a formidable technique with such freedom and fluency. There is audience noise between the movements of the Brahms and the final applause is kept in. Whether this performance can dislodge Weisenberg I’m not sure. It certainly runs him close.

Audite have done a great service in making these performances available. No admirer of these artists will want to miss these great performances.

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