The Scottish Viola - A Tribute to Watson Forbes

The Scottish violist Watson Douglas Buchanan Forbes (1909-1997) was one of the most eminent British musicians of the last century. His influence was widely felt through his activities as a soloist, chamber music player, teacher and coach. He was also the dedicatee of a substantial corpus of solo works written for him specifically or for the chamber music ensembles of which he was a member. However, he is perhaps best known throughout the string playing world as an arranger of music. Much of this is for viola, but his arrangements are also for violin, cello and several wind instruments.

“Like so many violists, as a young player I first encountered the name of Watson Forbes through his sets of arrangements. In 1989, at an eightieth birthday celebration for Forbes I finally had the pleasure of meeting the veteran violist. This meeting came about through my teacher John White, himself a pupil of Forbes. I am greatly indebted to John for his inestimable support and encouragement with this and countless other projects. I would like to dedicate this disc to him as a token of my gratitude for his friendship and guidance over many years.”

Martin Outram



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“As somebody who appreciates historic continuity, I am very glad to see a Royal Academy of Music professor honouring one of his illustrious predecessors. Having studied with John White, Martin Outram is a grand-student of the ‘other’ great Scots viola player, Watson Forbes (1909–97), and so a tradition lives on. Forbes is best known for his numerous transcriptions, and those of Rameau’s celebrated Tambourin, Bach’s Sinfonia and that 19th-century concoction known as ‘Nardini’s Concerto’ are included here. All bear testimony to Forbes’s ability to place a good tune wherever in the viola’s register it works best. Robin Orr’s Sonata, William Alwyn’s Sonatina no.2 and Alan Richardson’s various compositions were all dedicated to Forbes, while St Andrews Solo by Sebastian Forbes (Watson’s eldest son) was the set piece in a competition held in the great man’s birthplace on his centenary. It is the Scherzetto from Orr’s piece, with its faint echo of a Scottish reel, that best lives up to this well-recorded CD’s title. Beautifully seconded by his permanent piano partner, Julian Rolton, Outram performs most eloquently: whether in the Baroque transcriptions or in the moderately modern idioms of the original works, he invariably finds the right colours while phrasing subtly and with great beauty of tone. His engaging booklet notes are a further bonus.” Carlos María Solare, The Strad

‘Outram proves himself a player in the Primrose mould, with sumptuous tone and sensitivity’ BBC Music Magazine

The market isn’t exactly awash with viola recitals so this one should be welcomed with open arms and Nimbus have to be congratulated. Watson Forbes (1909-1997) studied with Paul Beard, Albert Sammons and Lionel Tertis in London and played under Beecham in the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Later in his career he was a member of the LSO. Over and above his orchestral work, Forbes was also a highly regarded performer of chamber music. His skills as an arranger are also on show in this recital – the Nardini, Rameau and Bach works are presented here in his own arrangements.
Martin Outram, a member of the Maggini String Quartet, is a superb viola player, ably supported by Julian Rolton on piano. Both musicians are great ambassadors of British music and they form a formidable partnership.
The Nardini concerto, arranged by Forbes and Alan Richardson, is an adaptation rather than a literal transcription. It works rather well and I personally like the added romanticism. Maybe this is not for purists but that’s their choice. As a stand-alone piece it’s well worth hearing.
The Scottish composer Robin Orr wrote one of my favourite British orchestral works - the Symphony in One Movement - so it’s good to hear his viola sonata. The work teems with good ideas, especially in the haunting second movement and the lively, driven scherzo with its pizzicato effects. The Richardson sonata is very much in the same vein, structurally impressive, melodic - rather than tuneful - and lyrical. There is also some stupendous virtuoso playing to be heard from both viola and piano in the mercurial Molto vivace. Splendid stuff. Richardson’s Sussex Lullaby is in the tradition of British light music and it’s a pleasant piece of pastoral writing.
Sebastian Forbes - son of Watson - wrote his St Andrews Solo as a test piece for the Watson Forbes Centenary Viola Competition, held in Edinburgh in 2009. Like many such it sounds fiendishly difficult to play and it receives a fine performance. As a piece of music it’s not especially memorable. The recital is completed with William Alwyn’s short Sonata No.2, full of good tunes and high spirits and the Rameau Tambourin - a sort of viola equivalent to the flute solo in J.S. Bach’s Badinerie. Then finally we come to the Bach Sinfonia. Marvellous music that really demonstrates the lyrical beauty of Martin Outram’s playing.
This is the third Nimbus release I’ve heard in the last couple of months and the recording quality on all three has been of a consistently high standard. The viola and piano are perfectly balanced in a clear acoustic. There is great presence and everything sounds perfectly natural. Not all of the music is of the highest standard but the sad fact is that the viola hasn’t exactly been high up in the pecking order for many of the great composers. We should be grateful for what is on offer here. It’s a very enjoyable CD.
John Whitmore,

"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." Jonathan Woolf,

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