You recorded this cello concerto as you mentioned for Dutton, released in 2020. Could you tell us a little about working with Royal Northern Sinfonia and the conductor Martin Yates? Were they aware of your research? How did you come to record it with them, and how did you find the collaboration?
They (RNS) really embraced bringing out this new recording; they recognised that the recording was very important. There are lots of wonderful recordings already out there — you yourself have done a lovely recording — so for me, I felt I needed a reason to record another one. Dutton were amazing at embracing this opportunity of bringing to light a different take on the Schumann Cello Concerto, and Martin Yates was incredible. He was as excited as I was about bringing to light this new edition and conceptualising it. So it was an absolute joy working with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. They have an incredible hall in Gateshead which was glorious to play in. Martin Yates was hugely supportive.
It was also such a coincidence because on the last page of the leaves in Bergamo (which Kraków didn’t have) there was a message from Clara Schumann to Alfredo Piatti saying, “Herr Piatti, I give you these leaves from Robert.” I’ve included it (the picture) in this edition as it’s wonderful to see. It’s important because Piatti gave the UK premiere of the Schumann Cello Concerto in 1866 at Crystal Palace in London. It also made sense that I recorded the Schumann and Piatti concertos on the same disc because of all of these connections.
You hold the Piatti Chair at the Royal Academy of Music, and you recorded his Second Cello Concerto alongside Schumann on this CD. Firstly, can you tell us a bit more about your relationship with Piatti and your thoughts on this composer, who is regarded as an important figure for us as cellists but is perhaps less well-known by others? I have also never read or heard anything about the First Cello Concerto! Does it exist at all, or did it get lost?
I recorded two of Piatti’s works; his Concerto and the Concertino, alongside the Schumann. You are right; there is this other concerto by Piatti, although I am not sure if you are able to get hold of the parts. Amazingly, Piatti actually held a teaching position at the Royal Academy of Music for over fifty years! He was an incredible cellist. He could whizz around the cello and play anything. He was a huge virtuosi performer and knew Liszt very well. He actually had to sell his cello at one point to pay for medical treatment, and Liszt asked him to do a concert with him if he found him a cello. They did the concert, Liszt was blown away by Piatti and his playing, and Lizst managed to find him a cello. We have a picture of Piatti in the Royal Academy of Music on the first floor. So it’s a great honour to hold the chair of Piatti at the Academy.
I have to say, his concerto nearly killed me because Piatti’s writing is so technically challenging. But just like the caprices, it’s packed full of music. So even though you feel like you are running a marathon when you play his works, you get a tremendous amount of reward, which is what it’s all about. Some of the Popper studies are just about technique, and there isn’t anything musical there. But with Piatti’s caprices and his writing in general, I always find it incredibly musical and beautiful.