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 – sitting in Watkin's usual seat – 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