Pianistic Brilliance from Mark Bebbington

20/11/2012

  Ireland, Chopin, Debussy, Liszt: Mark Bebbington (piano), Stover School, Newton Abbot, UK, 18.11.2012 (PRB)

Ireland: London Pieces
Chopin
: Sonata for Piano No 3 in B minor, Op 58
Debussy
: Five Preludes from 24 Preludes (Books 1 & 2)
Liszt
: Liebestod – Piano Transcription (Tristan und Isolde – Wagner)
Rigoletto – Paraphrase (Verdi)

Mark Bebbington (photo credit: Rama Knight)

British composer John Ireland died fifty years ago and, with the help of continuing sponsorship by The Ireland Trust and often additional local support, this year has seen a plethora of events countrywide to commemorate this.

This was indeed the case at an afternoon recital in the glorious surroundings of Stover School, a private day and boarding establishment in rural Devon, just outside the market town of Newton Abbot. Many such similarly-sized places throughout the UK often have thriving arts and cultural association which bring leading artists to these essentially ‘remoter’ areas, thus avoiding the need for audiences to have to travel to the next largest town, or indeed city. On this occasion the recital was under the auspices of Newton Abbot and District Society of Arts, which organises a series of varied concerts each season.

Pianist Mark Bebbington has almost single-handedly championed the work of twentieth-century British piano music, so his decision to open his recital with Ireland’s three London Pieces, came as no surprise.

The first two were written in 1917, the third in 1920, and each one sets out to evoke the contemporary London Ireland so loved. From the graceful broad flow of the River Thames in Chelsea Reach, the cheeky swagger of Ragamuffin, and the lively street life depicted in Soho Forenoons, Bebbington’s studied performance captured each picture to perfection, while so meticulously attending to every nuance in the writing.

Chopin’s third and final Piano Sonata in B minor is a veritable tour de force, and the composer’s largest work for solo piano. Here Bebbington seemed most at home in the lyrical moments, and especially in the slow movement, where he elicited a fine cantabile from the medium-sized grand piano. While the Scherzo was despatched with alacrity and panache, in the galloping Finale some of the passage-work seemed less-clean in delivery. Here, though, the extremely resonant acoustic, and possibly some spurious echoes from the geometrically-shaped roof might have contributed, and this was, after all, a school instrument and used daily, no doubt.

Bebbington opened the second half with his own selection of five Préludes from Debussy’s set of twenty-four. There was splendour and mysticism in La cathédrale engloutie, with some finely shaped-climaxes, though to which a full-sized concert-instrument might have added greater sonority at the bass end. Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest was suitably blustery and tempestuous, while Bebbington mustered as much cohesion as possible into his reading of the strangely-fragmented La sérénade interrompue. There was suitably light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek humour in Général Lavine – eccentric, and a dazzling display of musical pyrotechnics in Feux d’artifice.

One of the programme’s undoubted highlights came in the form of Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Again, while the added resonance of a larger piano would have benefitted the performance, Bebbington skilfully managed the available resources so that the final, almost orgasmic climax demanded as much as the instrument could safely offer, but without compromising tonal nicety to any significant degree.

There was a little surprise in store for the companion piece – Liszt’s better-known Rigoletto Paraphrase, from Verdi’s eponymous opera. Bebbington had added an extra couple of cadential chords at the close, feeling, as he later said, that Liszt’s original ending just fell a tad short, after all the virtuosity and flamboyance that had gone before.

A generous encore of Granados’ Andaluza delighted the large and enthusiastic audience.

 

Philip R Buttall

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