The Strad issue
A deeply felt account of Britten’s symphony for cello and orchestra
Paul Watkins (cello) BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner
In using the term ‘symphony’ for the concerto he wrote for Rostropovich in 1962–3, Britten was partly trying to get away from the idea of the concertante work as a battle between soloist and accompaniment. But one can’t help feeling that the Cello Symphony still sets up a certain amount of dualism, with the often ruminating soloist contrasting with the brighter, wind-dominated orchestral writing.
It’s certainly an impression given here in this new recording, where Paul Watkins’s often internalised solo playing complements the crisper, more extrovert sound world conjured up by Edward Gardner and his orchestra – enhanced, incidentally, by a wonderfully open recorded sound. Yet that brightness seems to emphasise the underlying darkness of the work, something that Watkins, with his often shaded tone and ability to dig deep into the instrument with his bow, brings out to moving effect. Gardner also contributes finely shaped performances of orchestral music from two of Britten’s operas to complete a valuable addition to the composer’s discography.