Elgar Cello Concerto; Introduction and Allegro; Elegy for Strings; Pomp and Circumstance Marches Nos 1–5
Yes, of course, the competition is stiff. But there are times when a recording of a popular classic comes along that’s so fresh, understanding and heartfelt that it demands to be approached solely on its own terms. Paul Watkins’s Elgar Cello Concerto is firmly in that class.
Watkins’s emotional shading is individual, without it ever sounding as though he’s trying to be individual. The mood change in the finale – from what seems a relatively high-spirited march, to pained regret as the tempo drops – is unlike any other performance I’ve heard. Yet it makes a great deal of sense, both in terms of the markings in the score and based on Elgar’s character.
And it’s clear that Watkins’s experience as a (rather good) conductor has given him richer insights than most into the way soloist and orchestra relate to each other. Nor are the other items in any way ‘fillers’. The Elegy sounds luxuriously beautiful even while it tugs at the heartstrings. In the five Pomp and Circumstance Marches there’s such delight in the invention, and in those glorious tunes, that even listeners who can’t even bring themselves to mouth the words might find themselves humming along.
Only the Introduction and Allegro falls a little short of ideal. Memories of Sir Colin Davis opening out brief but unforgettable vistas, and urging the London Symphony Orchestra strings on to exhilarating heights, wouldn’t be dislodged. Andrew Davis finds a rich seam of melancholy in the ‘Welsh’ viola tune, however. Recorded sound is beautiful: atmospheric, clear and finely balanced.