Of all 20th-century composers, Martin? was one of the most generous to the cello and indeed both sets of variations as well as the Second Sonata are firmly established in the repertoire. Compositionally, the Third Sonata is more uneven than the other works here, but Paul and Huw Watkins are fervent advocates of its music, delivering a rhythmically charged and technically brilliant performance on what is an excellently recorded CD.
The duo’s approach is particularly well suited to the more urgent and percussive language of the earlier sonatas, projecting the dark current of anxiety that underpins the first most convincingly. At the same time there is a tendency, reflected particularly in the opening of the Second Sonata, to play Martin?’s syncopated rhythms as they are barred rather than developing a more sustained lyrical line, as Janos Starker, for example, does most convincingly. In a similar way, the opening of the theme to the Slovak Variations could be even freer to offset the strong rhythmic impetus of the rest of the work. That apart, however, these gifted artists sail through this repertoire with great vitality and intensity, and bring a contrasting wit and almost nonchalant technical élan to the virtuosic Rossini Variations.