Paul Watkins: Interview
Cellist Paul Watkins joined
me for an interview following his quite brilliant new recording
of the Cello Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to discuss
the piece and his feelings about it, and about Moeran more generally.
to the entire Interview as Real Audio
Listen to the entire Interview
Watkins' full biography - click here
what did you make of the Cello Concerto yourself?
PW: Well, I had a very strange experience with it
in fact, beacuse it was not a piece that was nkown to me before
I was asked to do it by the BBC Philharmonic, but when I got the
music, just through looking at it (and I can hear things fairly
well in my head when I look at scores, but the complete picture
doesn't arrive until you get the first chance to play it through
with the piano), I was amazingly struck by how similar it looked
to great cello concertos of the past, particularly the Elgar, and
in the last movment of it, the structure reminded me a lot of the
Dvorak - the various figurations and things in there, just visually,
on the page. In fact, when I started to work on it and play it through,
it really turned into its own piece, and it is in fact a very original
work indeed - not in any way the rip off that I thought it might
turn out to be before getting to know it in depth.
So your opinion of it changed the more you got
to know it?
Absolutely! Just thinking back on what I've just said,
I had actually played through at the piano with a student of mine
the slow movement, because she'd heard it in Raphael Wallfisch's
recording, and was absolutely taken with it. But we hadn't had time
to work up the outer two movements of it which are technically the
more demanding ones, but I remember we just simply played through
that - that wonderful B flat major section - and that's stuck in
my head as being quintissentially English music. Of course he was
English living in Ireland, wasn't he? So, little Celtic perfumes
in there as well!
You mention that particular recording, I went back
to the Gramophone review of that recording, which describes it as
"a dark, sombre work...a prevailing feeling of sadness and
regret...an elusive piece". None of these are descriptions
which seem to match your recording of it. How would you characterise
That's interesting actually - I didn't know about
that review. I would say that on the whole it's more sort of melancholic-sentimental.
Being Welsh myself I've got a slight appreciation for that kind
of Celtic sentimentality, which is not necessarily bleak, in the
way that say Russian sentimentality might be, but is more nostalgic
and regretful. Actually the piece, as far as I'm concerned, ends
quite positively. The first movement is dark, certainly, but it's
serious as well - it's serious in its working out, it's musically
serious. I don't think of it as being a dismal piece.
But you do seem to have managed to find a warmth
even in the darker sections, which has perhaps been missed by other
Well thank you! I think that as well as being indicative
of what's in the piece, that fact that it's such a good piece that
it can take very different interpretations, I think it's also, a
little bit, an indication of the sort of player that I am. The more
I make recordings and listen to what I do, the more I realise that
certain aspects of my playing always tend to look on the more positive
and perhaps loving side of the music, rather than complete blackness.
Why do you think the concerto has been so neglected
over the years? Your recording suggests it ought to be quite well
up in the cello repertoire.
I hope it will become so, eventually. I don't really
know. People ask that question of various pieces that I've played
- why they're neglected. Earlier this year I did the Arthur Sullivan
Cello Concerto at the Proms, which again is a wonderful piece. I
can see why that's neglected because it has some fairly tough technical
difficulties in the last movement, and is not something that I think
soloists would take on lightly. The Moeran Concerto is more approachable,
technically. It's by no means easy, but it's a piece that can be
worked up without too much difficulty, so I can't understand it.
I hope that maybe once this radio recording gets played around a
little bit it will become more popular, because it's a great piece.
Cellists are known to complain that there is a
shortage of great concertos for them. Does this stand anywhere within
the top rank of cello concertos?
That's a difficult one - you're putting me on the
spot now on the E J Moeran website! But I would say that it probably
doesn't plumb the depths quite in the way the Elgar does, but then
I guess it was written at a different stage in the composer's life.
But, as a well crafted, communicable piece of music, I think it's
absolutely up in the first rank, yes.
Those who have heard it already are suggesting
that your recording of the Cello Concerto is set to become the definitive
interpretation. Is it a work you'd like to play more often, perhaps
in the concert hall as well ast the studio?
Well surely. If that's what people are saying then
I'm very pleased about that, actually. Yes - I'm certainly going
to make every effort to progamme it more and more.
Looking at your approach - some critics have rounded
on the final movement as one which in its use of a folk music style
is something of an easy, and perhaps a weak option for Moeran, but
in your recording you took this section significantly more slowly
than other performers have done. Was this a deliberate effort to
avoid this so-called "Irish-jiggery"?
(Laughs) - Yes, well, we experimented with that a
little bit during the rehearsals, and I remember glancing around
at a few of the front desk players of the BBC Phil, and a couple
of eyebrows and wry smiles were raised... Of course it's got that
rumbustiousness about it, but I think there are ways of taking that
seriously so it doesn't sound completely flip, and to try to get
the sort of Riverdance out of it as much as possible!
I'm told that an American cellist has taken up
Moeran's Cello Sonata, which is another much neglected masterpiece,
if I may call it such, and is due to play it at Tanglewood next
May. Is this a piece you've ever come across?
No it isn't. That's certainly something I'd be interested
to look at.
Do you have much knowledge of Moeran's other works
- the Symphony or chamber music, perhaps?
I certainly listened to the Violin Concerto several
times before recording the Cello Concerto, and I enjoyed that very
much. It's a very, very different piece, actually, a very different
mood all the way through. In fact that's much more rhapsodic, isn't
it? - atmospheric - it hasn't quite got the same symphonic argument
in it that I think the Cello Concerto has - I think that's one of
the things that really makes it a cut above. I have actually played
with the Nash Ensemble, which I'm a member of, a couple of years
ago now, I think it was an Oboe Quartet, which I enjoyed thoroughly,
I thought it was a great piece. That's the extent of my Moeran knowledge
at the moment, but I definitely want to get into it more.
Finally, do you think, therefore, that he's unfairly
Yes - I think so. I think he deserves a wider audience,
especially the Cello Concerto because that's fairly close to me.
Now I know the piece I'm going to do what I can to get the Moeran
name out there more and more!