Before my second Cambridge Music School in 1961, I was determined to go prepared. I worked furiously at a new work for baritone and orchestra with texts from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol. I sent it to the tutor, Ron Tremain, in advance to get his approval and also to ask if he knew of a singer who would be at the school and might be interested in singing it. He suggested Nelson Wattie and that was the beginning of a life-long friendship.
I don’t think any performance of a work of mine has ever moved me as much as this did. Nelson was superb. I sat there transfixed by his form in front of the orchestra and the wonderful sounds that were coming out of his mouth. I had been present at most of the rehearsals but this was even better, he was Oscar Wilde, with all the passion that his poem contains. Later, when it was recorded by the then “National Orchestra” under John Hopkins and Nelson was flown down to Wellington to sing the solo part again, I was there but terribly disappointed. The orchestra was perfect (they played it correctly on the first reading) and Nelson was probably more accurate than he had been in Cambridge, but something was missing: the atmosphere, the soul. Nevertheless this recording remains as a testimony to Nelson’s artistry. The reason for my disappointment was that I had never been present at a recording session before, where passion is totally out of place – only precision counts.