Mark Bebbington

Alan Bush
Piano Sonata in B minor, Op.2
Piano Sonata in B minor

Mark Bebbington (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 December, 2006
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Although they no longer enjoy the profile they did when the BBC broadcast its own series regularly from there, lunchtime recitals at St John’s remain a valuable platform both for unusual pieces and upcoming artists – of which there are few poised to make a bigger international impact than the pianist Mark Bebbington.

The present recital was thoughtfully programmed so as to juxtapose piano sonatas related to each other by more than just their key. Interestingly, Alan Bush’s B minor Sonata (1921) was receiving its first known performance since one given by the composer 80 years ago! With its three sections outlining a single movement that itself amalgamates sonata and ternary form with undemonstrative skill, the piece evinces elements of Brahms and Rachmaninov (whose B flat minor Sonata was then barely a decade old), while also anticipating the contrapuntal mastery and harmonic sophistication that Bush was to achieve over the ensuing decade. Bebbington brought an unforced eloquence to the central ‘andante tranquillo’, as well as evident flair to the outer ‘allegro deciso’ sections – the latter reaching its culmination with a finely-sustained accumulation of energy leading to the effulgent apotheosis.

A welcome, if occasional, addition to a repertoire in which Liszt’s B minor Sonata has held a central position for over 150 years. Bebbington’s approach was one in which expressive immediacy and also speculative inwardness were held in potent accord: vital in a work whose impulsive emotion is often held in check and ultimately underpinned by its controlling rigour, resulting in a dialectical unity of which Liszt was the exemplar in the large-scale instrumental music between Beethoven and Brahms.

Thus for all his encompassing of its extremes of dynamism and stasis, it was for conveying a sense of the work’s ending as reflected in its beginning that made Bebbington’s performance one to savour. Once his current series focussing on the British Piano Sonata has been concluded, another devoted to the development of the Piano Sonata itself – building on those which Busoni and others undertook in decades past – would be a worthwhile and, in Bebbington’s hands, undoubtedly rewarding enterprise.

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