Elgar’s music is regarded by many as being quintessentially English. In many respects Elgar epitomised Edwardian reserve. However his music was essentially Romantic in style, especially in his Cello Concerto.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 was the last important work that the composer produced; he was working on a third symphony when he died. In this concerto the cello soloists doubles as both narrator and protagonist, introducing and interrupting events by way of linking them. The slow movement is in the distant key of B flat major and remains apart from the rest of the concerto rather like a brief unresolved dream. However Elgar does bring it back briefly in the final movement but does not give it the final say.
The work was first performed in October 1919 at Queen’s Hall, London, with the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra with cellist Felix Salmond. By all accounts it was under-rehearsed, unlike our classic recommendation.
This performance is over fifty years old but still stands as a remarkable testimonial to Jacqueline du Pré whose life was cut tragically short by multiple sclerosis. The conductor in this performance is John Barbirolli – himself a cellist. At the premiere of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in 1919, Barbirolli was playing as a member of the London Symphony Orchestra!