- Composer: Benjamin Britten
- Audio CD (23 Aug 2003)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Nimbus Alliance
- ASIN: B0000CGP2X
- Other Editions: MP3 Download
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,267 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
Typical Britten: not a cellist, yet able to write so idiomatically for the instrument it's as though he'd played it all his life. But somehow these have proved easier for other cellists to claim as their own than, say, the roles written for Peter Pears have for other tenors. True, Slava has an outsized musical personality, but that isn't the key to any of these Suites. Paul Watkins manages to combine cool reflection in the fugue of the Second Suite with the flickering fire of the Scherzo that follows; there's a delicious vocal quality to his playing, with flawless intonation and real sweetness at the top of the cellos' compass, all the way down through the woody grain of the mid-range to a dark, sonorous bass. The Serenata from the First Suite is a masterclass in expressive pizzicato for any student cellist, and the volatility and frailty at the heart of the Third Suite is rendered poignantly, with its sequence of Russian folk songs and variations culminating in the Russian Hymn for the Departed, the Kontakion.
From a technical point of view, Watkins is impeccable: so is the recording, which properly delivers something the actual size of a cello set in a flattering but well-focused ambience.
There's something very British Britten-ish? about the way these Suites manage to be profoundly affecting, while still showing emotional restraint, something I think Paul Watkins feels more instinctively than their dedicatee. I wouldn't be without Rostropovich's recording, but since he only set down the first two, we can buy this newcomer for No. 3, and with a clear conscience. --Andrew McGregor
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