There have been a number of eminent Scottish violists but William
Primrose (1904-1982) and Watson Forbes (1909-1997) are the best
In its title this disc pays geographical tribute to Forbes’s
place of birth, but it’s by no means a geographically propagandist
exercise. After all, Forbes studied the violin in London at
the Royal Academy with a phalanx of English luminaries – Editha
Knocker, Marjorie Hayward, and Paul Beard - and also with Albert
Sammons with whom he took some lessons. The booklet notes are
in error here in implying that Sammons taught at the Academy:
he taught at the Royal College, and then only later on. Forbes
went to Czechoslovakia to study with the great pedagogue Ševcík
but then switched to the viola, studying with Raymond Jeremy,
a proponent of the music of Elgar and Bax amongst many others.
Forbes was a member of Beecham’s LPO and also the Stratton Quartet.
If you’ve ever wondered which performers made those recordings
of the Piano Quintet and Quartet to which Elgar listened on
his death bed, it was the Stratton (in 1944 it became the Aeolian).
Subsequently Forbes joined the LSO and then the Boyd Neel orchestra,
and he was an eminent chamber player. He was also a considerable
editor and arranger of music. This disc pays him due homage.
It begins with an arrangement in E minor by Forbes and his good
friend Alan Richardson, of Nardini’s Concerto in G. Those expecting
a ‘stand and deliver’ baroque transcription will be in for a
small shock as the piano part doesn’t often sound terribly baroque
at all, being spiced up with some lush harmonies. A few surprising
twists and turns shadow the Concerto, not least in the restless
slow movement. Robin Orr was a fellow Scot and exact contemporary
of Forbes. His Sonata is cogently and tautly argued, a touch
Hindemith-like in places, quietly moving in the Elegy
second movement, alternately quizzical and vigorous in the finale.
Alan Richardson, born in Edinburgh, was a colleague, and friend
and a professor at the Royal Academy. His Sonata was premiered
in 1949 and is a genial, voluble work with a brief Lento
introduction and successively, a chattering Allegro
of a scherzo, a rather elusive Lento and a confident
finale that ends with a satisfying scrunch.
William Alwyn’s cheeky little Sonatina No.2 is an airy delight
with a supple folk-like finale; the whole thing is over in eight
and a half minutes. Sebastian Forbes, the violist’s son, contributes
a very clever test-piece written for the Watson Forbes Centenary
Viola Competition. I particularly admire its fusing of technical
demands and narrative colour. The three small pieces that end
the disc are Richardson’s charming Sussex Lullaby,
Forbes’ arrangement of Bach’s Sinfonia and a Forbes-Richardson
arrangement of Rameau’s Tambourin. Interestingly, so
far as I know, this is the only piece in the recital that Watson
Forbes recorded. His 10-inch red Decca included more Rameau
movements. He and Denise Lassimonne zipped through it in under
a minute, whereas Martin Outram and Julian Rolton take half
a minute longer. This relaxation of tempo is good in that it
brings out the piano harmonies, but a zestier speed doesn’t
half sound fun.
Perhaps this is an opportune time to plead for some of Forbes’
recordings to be transferred to CD. I’m thinking of the Bax
Sonata with Maria Korchinska in 1940 – he followed his old teacher
Raymond Jeremy in recording it with her. Then there’s Bliss’s
Sonata and Walthew’s Mosaics and Sonata in D, all with
Myers Foggin and all on Decca 78s from 1938. I’d also very much
like to have his Mozart Duos with Frederick Grinke transferred,
along with the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata with Foggin.
There are many excellent things on Decca from that time still
languishing in shellac limbo.
Meanwhile, back to the matter in hand. Outram is the esteemed
violist of the Maggini Quartet, great ambassadors for British
chamber music. He’s also a well known soloist. Rolton is his
duo colleague, and he too, as a member of the Chagall Trio,
has done very fine things on disc and in recital. Together they
are outstandingly successful in this repertoire, catching its
moods and colours with great charm and sensitivity. An excellent
booklet note and well judged recording balance helps no end.
This is a really worthwhile salute to a splendid musician.