The Sleeve Notes on Beulah’s Visions of Elgar

As an amateur musician and loyal Beulah supporter, David Watkin wrote the following notes for the Visions of Elgar CD booklet:

“Poor old Elgar was, like Kipling, enmeshed with the British Empire. Both men deserved better, the two symphonies and the violin concerto may rightly stand besides Brahms: and I have a soft spot for the Introduction and Allegro for Strings (probably from seeing Boult do it so many times). The Cello concerto is a bit cloying for me, excepting artists like van Beinum and the transcendent, if occasionally drunk soloist, Anthony Pini, on these discs. Of the early works, I have ever loved Alassio (In the South), and what fascinates here is the opening which, to my ears, is pure Richard Strauss. Compare it with the start of Don Juan and the main difference is that Elgar is easier for the orchestra to play. Lastly my bete noir. The Dream of Gerontius is Elgar’s Parsifal, good music – nauseating text. The explanation why Parsifal is twice as bad is that it is twice as long. Longer than that if you consider the slow tempi throughout. At least Elgar’s demons get a move on.”

Barry Coward, Proprietor of Beulah writes:

This note, written for me by David in 2007 after he had been diagnosed with his final illness, beautifully sums up his love of music and hatred of some of the religious texts that great music had to accompany. David’s taste in classical music could be described as catholic with blind spots. The two most notable absentees from his collection of nearly 6000 compact discs were Tchaikovsky and Mahler symphonies. When it came to interpreters he favoured those who were masters of their art in his youth. Conductors such as Mengleberg, Furtwangler and Henry Wood were his champions along with artists such as Landowska and Flagstad. His blind spots extended to Toscanini and Heifitz.

David reached his wide ranging love of music via a typically unconventional route. Being upper middle class he had some experience of music at school but it was only when the family’s catholic priest gave the young David a set of 78rpm discs that contained Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony did his life change. The austere Victorian Watkin family would not have approved of such a gift had it come from anyone but the priest. When David asked his father for a piano as he now wished to become a musician rather than an engine driver (railways were to remain a passion for David for the rest of his life) the request was rejected on the grounds that it would make a noise in the house, and in any case he could not secure a comfortable living as a musician. His father was solictor to the Southern Railway and unlike his uncle who also worked for the Southern Railway his father was a Victorian even though that era had ended thirty years before. David had to wait until he was 65 before purchasing a piano, a Steinway grand, and taking lessons. David describes how he discovered Beethoven’s other symphonies by listening to the radio turned down very low and sandwiching his head between the speaker and cushion.

By the time David discovered Henry Woods promenade concerts in London (1940) the old boy was nearing the end of his 49 year tenure of the concerts. Wood shared concerts with Basil Cameron, Adrian Boult and Malcolm Sargent and it was from the batons of these four men that David consumed the classical repetoire. David would arm himself with minature scores, having taught himself to read them. This was an excellent grounding that enabled David to appreciate good performances for the rest of his life.

Working in films David would soon find others who shared his interest in music. He would disappear from the set to find a classical record shop where, with the advent of the compact disc, he would arm himself with discs that were distributed among members of the crew to avoid paying import duty on return to Heathrow. Compact disc re-issues of the great musicians of the 78rpm disc era (1900-1953) delighted David, provided the transfer was not by Mike Dutton. Mike’s policy was to remove all surface noise and David was of the strong opinion that it damaged the sound and therefore the performance. Many have been the times when I had to come to Mike’s defence, all to no avail with David.

BaremboimWhen David was given the opportunity to film Daniel Barenboim playing Mozart’s Piano Concerts he accepted with alacrity. David delighted in telling me that the Berlin Philharmonic (for him and many other music lovers the world’s best orchestra) played from the English Chamber Orchestra’s parts. Unsurprisingly David and Daniel became firm friends.

David’s love of opera was mainly teutonic. The only Verdi opera he appreciated was Falstaff. Wagner was his hero and David would argue that Wagner was much misunderstood and that the composer was not anti-semitic.

Chamber and instrumental music from Bach to Boulez was very much for listening to at home. David’s concert attendances, often at the Dome in his beloved Brighton were orchestral occasions. He was a loyal supporter of Barry Wordsworth and the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, always choosing seats near the front of the auditorium.

Playing keyboard instruments came late in life to David. For many of his later years he kept a grand piano, an early square piano, and a Tom Goff harpsichord in his home.

Harpsichord

David’s enthusiam for classical music was infectious and he would take every opportunity to make compact disc compilations to broaden friend’s appreciation of the music he loved. Although David is remembered by many for his work in films, he was at heart a musican first and then like Dvorak and Bruckner, two of his favourite composers, a railwayman.

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