The Diverse Insights of the Watkins Duo Brought Individual Life to the Music

21/11/2017

Scott, Delius, Fauré, Webern, Debussy and Bridge: Paul Watkins (cello), Huw Watkins (piano), Samuel West (narrator), Hall One, Kings Place, London, 19.11.2017 (AS)

ScottPastoral and Reel
Delius – Cello Sonata
Fauré – Cello Sonata No.1 in D minor, Op.109
Webern – Cello Sonata, Op.posth
Debussy – Cello Sonata
Bridge – Cello Sonata in D minor, H125

In its variety of content this was an intriguing looking programme in prospect, and it proved to be a rewarding experience, especially since none of works played except the Debussy are heard very frequently in live performance. The programme’s title was ‘First World War: Channel Crossings’ and all the items save one were indeed written during that war. The odd man out was Cyril Scott, whose Pastoral and Reel of 1926 still perhaps reflected the experience of the conflict through the unsettled, uneasy mood that lurked underneath the somewhat forced jollity of the ‘Reel’, in particular.

Between musical items Samuel West read war poems and contemporary letters written by some of the composers. Delius’s description of having to flee his Grez-sur-Loing home temporarily in the company of thousands of refugees as German forces advanced was particularly evocative. This reading preceded a performance of the composer’s Cello Sonata of 1915. Here the Watkins duo eschewed rhetorical gestures, and allowed the work’s delicate emotions to blossom through the use of gentle legato and highly sensitive phrasing.

Fauré’s Cello Sonata No.1 was also played with appropriate restraint, of a Gallic nature this time, though the work’s quite dense musical argument and underlying toughness were well conveyed. It was a pity that Webern’s Cello Sonata of 1914 followed too hard on the heels of Samuel West’s reading of Giuseppe Ungaretti’s Vigil, for like many of this composer’s works it was over almost as soon as it had begun, and a second performance of the two-minute piece would have been helpful.

Debussy’s masterly Cello Sonata of 1915 was superbly brought to life, its searingly ironic, despairing nature beautifully caught by both players.

Frank Bridge’s Cello Sonata, written between 1913 and 1917, brought the evening to a close. Again, this work reflects wartime experiences, with a lovely lyrical opening, dark and florid autumnal arabesques, and a fast, very angry episode in the second of the two movements. Overall, perhaps, it is a less effective vehicle of expression than the other works played, and though it is not a long piece, it tends to sprawl just a little. The Debussy Sonata would have made a more effective end to the evening.

Although there was a certain commonality in the works played, each has its own distinct personality, and each was unerringly brought to individual life through the diverse insights of both performers.

Alan Sanders

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