Programming by anniversaries of dead composers is a tried and trusted, if stale, formula. Programming around anniversaries of dead performing artists is a much rarer bird. But the cellist Jacqueline du Pré was the rarest of birds. In English affections, she's the Lady Di of the music world. And, like Lady Di, she lived her life fast. Much was packed in. She was beautiful, glamorous and a child prodigy, married to the golden boy of young musicians, Daniel Barenboim. They were going places. Nothing could stop them.
But du Pré's career at the top of her game lasted only six years. And what she achieved, musically, with Barenboim took place within four years. She was born in 1945. By 1973 her performing career was over and she died in 1987. But her playing inspired one generation, and then another. This year, she would have been 60.
She died of multiple sclerosis after a 14-year illness. Early death has claimed the lives of many young and extraordinary musicians; another great cellist, Emanuel Feuermann, died aged 39 after a botched operation. But du Pré had to live with the torment of being deprived of the only thing she really loved.
So a marathon concert, to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, was planned, encompassing all the works for cello and piano by Beethoven. It is (almost) normal to plan two concerts to accommodate Beethoven's five sonatas and three sets of variations. So it was brave of Raphael Wallfisch with his pianist, John York, to take on the challenge - but possibly foolhardy.
It made for a very long concert, at just over three hours. After the Judas Maccabaeus variations, Cello Sonata No 2 Op 5 and Cello Sonata No 4 Op 102 in the first half, the fact that the grandest of them all - Sonata No 3 Op 69 - was yet to come was almost overwhelming. The opening of the G minor sonata had been haunting, shot through with poignancy; Op 102 resolute in the right places; and Op 69 particularly fine in its syncopated Scherzo, taken at a fast, nervy pace.
After a pit-stop, the two sets of variations from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and the last two sonatas - Beethoven's first and last - made a satisfactory, if exhausting, whole.
Wallfisch is a consummate musician - nothing could be unmusical in his hands - but his personality is far from du Pré's. As a cellist, she got away with a lot because she was such a captivating performer. Wallfisch is solid and amiable with moments of magic - in particular his fourth finger slides - but du Pré remains irreplaceable.Reuse content