Review - Caroline Gill
JS BACH Cello Suites (Complete)
As with so much mainstream repertoire, the catalogue is so full of recordings ¨C good and bad ¨C that there often has to be some form of abstract justification to qualify any further additions. David Watkin¡¯s profound musicianship, though, is more than enough to accelerate this recording of Bach¡¯s Cello Suites to the top of the tiny league of ¡®definitive¡¯ recordings, beyond the infinitesimal care of Ditta Rohmann (Hungaroton, 5/14, 11/14), the meticulous intellectualism of Anner Bylsma (Sony, 7/81, 1/93) or even the refined warmth of the benchmark Fournier performances (Archiv, 3/89): all encapsulate the vital elements of these works but none succeeds completely in covering them all.
Watkin plays the first five suites on a cello by Francesco Ruggieri ¨C a luthier contemporary of Bach¡¯s whose instruments are famed for their warmth of tone ¨C and the sixth on a rare five-string cello by the Amati brothers of the same period. But the extraordinarily resonant sound he makes is probably less to do with the instruments than with the playing itself, which is warm, expansive, generous and friendly. That is not to say that this performance is not of the highest level intellectually and technically: it is, and largely because of its appreciation of these suites as not just dances but discourses almost verbal in their directness. It is as if all the work that Watkin has ever done on these pieces has been absorbed absolutely and then reproduced in a performance that is able to be completely original in its voice at the same time as never producing a phrase that jars in its unsubtlety, or presents an ego that overarches the music.
That generosity of artistry directly results in some movements that are not only opened up to the listener as the masterworks they are but as paeans of heart-cracking joy. If you only buy this disc for the Prelude of the G major Suite, for exactly that reason, it will be money well spent.
BBC Music Magazine
Instrumental Choice, July 2015
Helen Wallace applauds Baroque cellist David Watkin¡¯s suite mastery
There have been fine recent recordings on Baroque cello, including Richard Tunnicliffe¡¯s characterful accounts (Linn), but this to me feels like the set I¡¯ve spent years waiting for.
David Watkin, one of our most inspired continuo players, is a consummate virtuoso. Sympathetically recorded in Edinburgh¡¯s Robin Chapel, his performances are alive with a rare joy, effortless spontaneity, technical precision and imaginative fluency.
Just turn to the most awkward, least graceful of the Suites, the fourth in E flat major, and see how he shrugs off the Prelude¡¯s sharp corners in a reading of limpid vivacity, never allowing technical concerns to dictate the line. At the other end of the spectrum, he unlocks all the expressive fullness of the poignant C minor Sarrabande, proving that the eloquence of the Baroque bow is more than a match for the projection of the modern cello.
These may be scholarly readings but there¡¯s not a hint of rigidity; indeed, if there was any quibble it would be over his occasional impetuosity. Dance is king, but never at the expense of the harmonic story. Courantes and Bourées are fleet, Gigues jauntily brusque, with a lovely rhythmic flexibility and flair and the Sarabandes are graceful and flowing. The all-embracing warmth of the chords in the stately Gavottes and Minuets is simply not possible on the modern instrument. Some exceptionally swift second dances (in the C major and C minor suites, for instance) float past like smoke. The pianissimo playing is revelatory here, the moth-wing timbral delicacy of strings barely brushed. Watkin ends with the bright resonance of a five-string Amati in a radiant D major Suite. Hearing such airy ease, it¡¯s almost impossible to believe the devastating news that Watkin recorded this while suffering from the early stages of scleroderma, a condition that has forced him to stop playing. There couldn¡¯t be a better testament to a remarkable musician.
BBC Radio 3, CD of the Week
"Watkin finds the most illuminating balance between meditation and dance, exuberance and humility, head and heart, you can't play Bach like this unless you've communed with the scores for an age [...] the effortless musicality of the performance makes it a special experience [...] definitely one of the most rewarding accounts on baroque cello."
Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 CD Review
¡°There¡¯s lightness, richness and warmth and a deep humanity that shines out of both Bach¡¯s music and David Watkin¡¯s absorbing traversal. Unplug the phones, switch off your mobile, let social media manage without you for 28 mins, it¡¯s time for Bach¡¡±
Andrew McGregor, 04/07/15
Fiona Maddocks 19th July 2015
"Using two historic instruments and playing on gut strings, David Watkin gives a definitive period instrument account of Bach¡¯s six solo Cello Suites. It should be in any Bach lover¡¯s collection. One can only marvel at Watkin¡¯s range of colour, his elegance, his verve, variety and spontaneity ¨C above all his understanding of line and pulse. He has long been one of the top cellists around, as soloist, quartet player and principal cellist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.... He will devote his energies, in part, to conducting... we can expect this phenomenal musician to make a mark on the podium too."
JS Bach Complete Cello Suites
As a soloist, scholar, member of the Eroica Quartet and section leader of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, David Watkin has been a vital presence in the UK's historically informed performance culture for decades, but he has lately turned more to conducting. If this deeply considered and vitally conceived set of the Old Testament of the cello is an envoi to his instrument, it is a lasting one, well worthy of comparison with the high watermarks in the long history of the Cello Suites on record.
The Preludes are shaped with a strongly rhetorical, almost conversational sense of phrase, with some unusual turns of accent that (such as in the Third Suite) turn the music to our attention in a new light. The inner dances are similarly ruminative, even in the sprightly Courantes, without ever losing the life-force of a pulse; there are other more evidently dance-oriented approaches imaginable, but few that so vividly tell a story about each Suite. The Fifth's Prelude is rich in implied counterpoint that drags its feet like an old man walking with his mind already turned towards the heavens; the Second is knottier and more experimental than usual, trying out the harmonic implications of a D major arpeggio with a student's step-by-step progress. In the Minuet of that Suite, Fournier is gruff and harsh, the Kaiser on his throne where Watkin is the graceful courtier.
It helps that player, producer (Adam Binks) chapel acoustic and instruments all conspire to build a tonal plan as opulent and intricate as a Baroque palazzo, immediately easy on the ear but issuing a gilded invitation to listen further. In the Bourées and Minuets Watkin is unafraid of the rich open-string resonance of his Rugeri cello. For the last and most exploratory of the set he switches to a five-string violoncello piccolo by the Brothers Amati which Watkin's note - comprehensive, authoritative and no less friendly for that - aptly compares to Richard Strauss's horn writing in its realized potential for the grand sweep, the big gesture and oratorical stature so true to Bach. If time almost stands still in the Allemande, all nine minutes of it, it is only with the melancholic contemplation of one who surveys a landscape and finally sees his own small place within it. This sense of scale anticipates the Romantic ideal embodied by Schumann and Brahms but the visionary musicians - and Watkin is one - have found it in Bach without wrenching him from his own time and place.
20th May 2015 Peter Quantrill
19th Jan 2012
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
David Watkin, Conductor
St Cuthbert's Church, Edinburgh
Haydn's Morning, Noon and Night symphonies - the sixth, seventh and eighth in an output of more than 100 - form a fanciful and alluring trilogy, full of foretastes of later masterpieces but offering many pleasures in their own right.
Usually performed singly they were given a programme to themselves this week by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in one of its Edinburgh rush-hour concerts, with the gifted principal cellist David Watkin as conductor.
Whole Haydn programmes being among life's rarities, it was good to find this one in such exhuberant and able hands. The music brimmed with picturesque solos intended to display the versatility of Haydn's original Esterhazy players, whose assistant director he had recently become at the age of 28. These resourceful touches were imaginatively recaptured by the instrumentalists' modern Scottish eqivalents, particularly the solo flute but also at special moments the bassoon and double bass.
The broader picture, ranging from sunrise to storm, with a visit to an opera seria en route, was conveyed with similar assurance. Equally illuminating was the orchestra's grasp of Haydn's already high response to the niceties of 18th-century structure.
Yet we remain far from being in the happy position of early Haydn as a regular event. The impressive size of the audience suggested that the attraction lay as much in th etitles of the works as in the composer - would the nameless 36th, 37th and 38th symphonies have lured so many listeners? - but the music was so conspicuously worth hearing and the performances mostly so alive that each work spoke keenly for itself.
¡°this was an alternative view of Transfigured Night, one with the last vestiges of Romanticism stripped of it, and spookily effective. Watkin pushed his lean and turbulent interpretation right to the edge, and the young academy players with it.¡±
Michael Tumelty, Glasgow Herald (RSAMD Strings) 2009
Observer Sunday 3/2/13
¡°The star turn was SCO principal cellist David Watkin, soloist in Schumann's Cello Concerto. The work was not played in the composer's lifetime and has hardly made it to the mainstream since. Here the question is "Why not?" This small, close-knit ensemble gave buoyant support to one of their own. The moment in the brief slow movement when the stand-in principal cellist ¨C sitting in Watkin's usual seat ¨C duetted with the soloist had special intimacy. Afterwards, hushed and flawless, he played the Allemande from Bach's D major suite.¡±
¡°..the playing of the Schumann with SCO principal cellist David Watkin as soloist, urgently suggested a re-think of the concerto, a much better piece than many people allow. Watkin¡¯s beautiful performance capturing the drama and the poetry of the music, with it¡¯s melting little co-ordination in the brief slow movement between soloist and the acting leader of the cello section, exquisitely characterised the intimacy of the music of this most individual of Romantic composers. Watkin followed the concerto with a heart-stopping encore in the Allemande from Bach¡¯s Sixth Cello Suite, one of those soulful contemplations where time stops and all that remains is th e concentration of the moment enshrined in music: philosophy in sound.¡±
Seen and Heard International 30/1/13
¡°Watkin produced some gorgeous sounds from his instrument, particularly the lavish middle range and the chocolaty lower notes which caught the cello¡¯s resonance perfectly. He was at his finest in the slow movement which he phrased as one long, seamless flow of melody, and the orchestra accompanied him sympathetically throughout, particularly impressively in the accompanied cadenza that ends the work. As well as showcasing a great conductor, this evening was more proof of the gold that the SCO holds within its own ranks.¡±
Complementing Mendelssohn's C major, the first half moved to the relative minor for Schumann's Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 (1850). Having heard a performance of his Piano Concerto (in the same key) the previous evening, is was interesting to hear, so soon after, songsmith Schumann's writing for a soaring, sustaining instrument. The soloist was the SCO's own David Watkin and he delivered an excellent performance. There is some notable high-wire work in this concerto, but in the hands of a composer such as Schumann there is always more to such writing than mere altitude. In the opening movement, Nicht zu schnell, beautiful harmonic surprises intensified these corners. Watkin navigated these moments with great feeling. Equally impressive in this concerto, and in this performance, were the impassioned moments in the cello's lower register. For obvious acoustical reasons not all composers are inclined to divide the drama between opposing ends of the pitch spectrum but, skilfully handled as it was here, it enriches the dramatic palate considerably. The response to this performance, from audience and orchestra alike, was so warm that Watkin rewarded us with a deeply felt Allemande from Bach's Cello Suite No 6, transposed down from D major to G major.
"David Watkin made the arresting opening phrase of Debussy's Cello Sonata ring out heroically in that reverberant acoustic. The sense of fleeting glimpses was well captured, as was the range of tone, by both cellist and his pianist, Howard Moody. This is an exciting partnership. The dialogue of the Rondo in Beethoven's Sonata in G minor, op 5 no 2 was a particular delight. But the performance of Brahms's F major Sonata was absolutely electrifying, its waves of passion transmuted into virile, resonant melodic lines. I hope to hear this duo again."
Debut Recital, St John's Smith Square, 1988
Barry Millington, The Times
¡°The Cello Concerto sings beautifully, and David Watkin played it strongly on Thursday.¡±
Bernhard Holland, New York Times (Schumann Cello Concerto) 1999
¡°Instrumental soloists almost stole the evening, notably David Watkin (cello)¡±
Fiona Maddocks, London Evening Standard (Bach Cantatas) 2006
The OAE players were magnificent - especially the continuo group of cellist David Watkin, bassoonist Andrew Watts and organist Laurence Cummings Tom Service The Guardian (St John Passion, Snape) 2005
It would be amiss not to mention such outstanding details as David Watkin¡¯s continuo playing, a polyphonic style that is his impressive trademark.
Kenneth Walton The Scotsman, Edinburgh International Festival 2009