Paul Watkins is one of the world’s finest cellists. He is much in demand throughout the world and although he has made several recordings for Chandos in the past, this is his first as an exclusive artist. He is accompanied by his brother Huw Watkins, with whom he has developed an extremely rewarding musical partnership. The three cello sonatas of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu span the period 1939 – 52 and are full of rewarding musical invention. The experience of his long exile was often expressed in his music, particularly here in the Third Sonata and in the Variations on a Slovak Theme. If in the First, competed in 1939, the unease occasioned by World War II may be detected in the first two movements, the energetic finale, driven by Martinu’s motoric rhythms, prompted the composer to remark of its first performance: ‘It came as a last greeting, a beam of light from a better world (which is the opinion of others, not my own). For several minutes we realised what music could give us and we forgot about reality.’
There is a touch of the impetuous about Richard Lester's playing of these sonatas which seems to me to capture very happily their character: their somewhat wayward invention, their sense of being formalized versions of a cellist's improvisations. The momentary hesitancies hint at the playercomposer who is deciding as he goes which of the ideas in his mind to try out next. Yet beneath it is a strong rhythm and a very sure compositional technique. The music is very high lying: the cellist has prolonged spells in high thumb positions with quite rapid passagework, and these Lester executes with great brilliance and crispness — there is just one passage, in the finale of the C major work, where accuracy of intonation momentarily eludes him, but otherwise one cannot imagine playing of greater exactitude.