Mark Bebbington at Stover School in Newton Abbot (review)

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British composer John Ireland died 50 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.

Pianist Mark Bebbington has almost single-handedly championed the work of 20th-century British piano music, so his decision to open his recital in the lovely surroundings of Stover School, in the current Newton Abbot and District Society of Arts Concert Series this time 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, Mark’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 Mark 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.

Mark opened the second half with his own selection of five Preludes from Debussy’s set of 24.

There was splendour and mysticism in The Submerged Cathedral, with some finely shaped-climaxes, though to which a full-sized concert-instrument might have added greater sonority at the bass end.

What the West Wind Saw was suitably blustery and tempestuous, while Mark mustered as much cohesion as possible into his reading of the strangely-fragmented Interrupted Serenade.

There was suitably light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek humour in General Lavine – Eccentric, and a dazzling display of musical pyrotechnics in Fireworks.

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, Mark skilfully managed the available resources so that the final, almost orgasmic climax demanded as much as the instrument could 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.

Mark had added an extra couple of cadential chords at the close, feeling 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’s Andaluza delighted the large and enthusiastic audience.


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