Paul Watkins is the cello soloist in a recording that showcases some of Elgar’s most popular works. He is accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic and Sir Andrew Davis, a conductor steeped in the English music tradition.
Elgar studied the violin from a young age, and had some early hopes of making a career as a soloist. Consequently, he wrote for the strings of the orchestra with a special understanding and flair, not least in a handful of works for strings alone. The showpiece among these is the Introduction and Allegro, written in 1904, for the newly formed London Symphony Orchestra to be included in an all-Elgar concert. The premiere performance was conducted by the composer.
Elgar started writing his Pomp and Circumstance Marches in 1901 in the wake of his national successes with the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius. The Marches vary considerably in mood. The First March gained worldwide fame largely due to the trio melody, which Elgar considered ‘a tune that comes once in a lifetime’, and the Second displays a certain air of urgency with its brazen horn calls and jaunty trio. Also on this disc is Elgar’s intimate and restrained Elegy for Strings.
The Cello Concerto in E minor, written in 1918 – 19, was the last major work Elgar completed. Its mood is often described as ‘autumnal’, and highly reflective of the ageing composer’s own state of mind. At the time of writing it, Elgar was concerned about the failing health of his wife and about his own waning popularity; he was deeply disturbed, too, by the horrors of the First World War. Paul Watkins writes of his experience of recording this work: ‘It is a privilege to have the opportunity to add my voice to the many different interpretations of this iconic work. I prepared for this recording by using my experience as a conductor: in other words, to study Elgar’s masterful score as deeply as possible, and to realise how intimately the solo cello is linked to the orchestra throughout. In this respect I feel fortunate to have been working with Sir Andrew Davis. He is the most natural and intelligent interpreter of Elgar I know.’