Capriccio, No.1 & No.2
The Hour Glass
Vignettes de Marseille
Sonata for Piano
Mark Bebbington (piano)
Recorded in Number 8 Arts Centre, Pershore, Worcester; no recording date(s) advised
Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler
Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: SOMM NEW HORIZONS
Duration: 77 minutes
Analogies with London buses may have become something of a cliché, but you can’t help wondering what there is in the zeitgeist (or the water, perhaps) that has prompted two record companies to embark on complete surveys of Frank Bridge’s piano music simultaneously. Hot on the heels of volume one from Ashley Wass on Naxos comes the first issue in Mark Bebbington’s rival (or complementary, perhaps – we shall see) series for Somm.
The only overlap between the two discs comes with the three pieces that make up The Hour Glass. In ‘Dusk’, Bebbington is slightly more withdrawn than Wass, who uses a wider range of tone, whereas in ‘The Dew Fairy’ it’s Bebbington who is just that bit swifter and more forthright. In ‘The Midnight Tide’ both pianists bring out Bridge’s indebtedness to Debussy’s ‘La Cathédrale Engloutie’ (Préludes, Book I), but Wass seems more aware than Bebbington of links with the same composer’s ‘Des Pas Sur la Neige’ (also from the first book), and finds more of a Bartókian edge to some of the chord voicing.
The Hour Glass also appears on Kathryn Stott’s 1991 Bridge disc on Conifer (CDCF 189 – not currently available?), which duplicates Bebbington’s programme almost entirely. Stott finds even more mystery in ‘Dusk’, and while all three build a powerful climax in ‘The Midnight Tide’, Stott begins with a greater sense of desolation, and so gives herself more scope for expressive variety. On the other hand, Wass moves forward more inexorably than do either Stott or Bebbington.
Vignettes de Marseille, of 1925, though not rivalling the stature of Bridge’s 1928 orchestral work Enter Spring, may perhaps be regarded as its piano equivalent in one respect, at least – as a work in his later style but extrovert rather than elegiac in tone. Stott and Bebbington are both admirably fleet-fingered in the opening number, ‘Carmelita’, though Bebbington tends to pull the tempo around more, and is perhaps just a shade pale beside Stott’s sun-drenched exuberance. His ‘Nicolette’ is somewhat more wistful than Stott’s livelier, more whimsical reading. In ‘Zoraïda’, Bebbington goes more for sultry languor, while Stott, only marginally quicker, brings out more of the dance impulse, plus a hint of menace at the climax. Bebbington is noticeably steadier than Stott in the final ‘En Fête’, with much more time to take in details and with a real lift to the rhythms (and the greater clarity of Somm’s recording is preferable to the slightly clangourous sound Conifer gave Stott in 1991). Against that is Stott’s greater sense of impulsiveness and of living dangerously, though Bebbington lets himself go impressively in the approach to the final cadence.
The Piano Sonata of 1924 marks the final emergence of Bridge’s later, more expressionistic manner. Bebbington is alive to the first movement’s drama and urgency, but is also tempted to linger more over details, which tends to undermine the music’s coherence. Stott immediately establishes a more haunted atmosphere at the start, and her greater capacity for long-term thinking, coupled with the clarity she brings to Bridge’s complex textures and rhythmic intricacy takes us closer to the music’s passionate heart. In the second movement Bebbington touches heights of remarkable eloquence though, again, he is more inclined to linger than Stott, who conveys a firmer sense of the music’s forward motion. The finale shows Stott’s greater willingness to use the music’s rhythms to propel it forward, finding in it a quality of grim elation as a result. On the other hand, Bebbington’s greater degree of stillness in the tolling chords that follow the main climax is a powerfully expressive moment.
Bebbington and Stott also include the two Capriccios of 1905. Stott is the more impulsive in the first of them and brings out more of the second’s humour. The only pieces that do not bring Bebbington up against either Wass or Stott are the Three Sketches, of 1906. Bebbington’s playing is full of character, and the deftness with which he signs off each piece is appealing though, as before, his tendency towards exaggerated rubato – particularly in the first piece, ‘April’, tends to obscure the thread of both the music’s forward motion and its rhythmic structure.
Bebbington’s disc is certainly a major addition to the catalogue. There’s no doubting either his commitment to the music or his often-compelling realisation of Bridge’s remarkably inventive and intricate keyboard writing. But Stott penetrates just that bit deeper into the composer’s expressive world.