Mark Bebbington at St John’s Smith Square – Impromptus & Piano Sonatas – Schubert D899 & D644 and Chopin B-minor

Four Impromptus, D899
Piano Sonata in A, D664
Piano Sonata in B-minor, Op.58

Mark Bebbington (piano)

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 4 July, 2019
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Mark BebbingtonPhotograph: was the final programme in Mark Bebbington’s three-concert series of Pianograms, made up of music by Schubert and Chopin. It was, quite simply, a choice that appeared to be straightforwardly chosen, but in practice presented the artist with challenges of many interpretative difficulties – in short, of profound musicianship – all of which Bebbington surmounted with notable artistry.

Here is a pianist, already well-known for a remarkable series of recordings on the SOMM label, mainly of British music, demonstrating his total command of what might be termed ‘mainstream’ repertoire – even if the music of Schubert and Chopin is considered in those terms by the superficial music-lover, concert-goer, or critic.

Those who have followed Bebbington’s career will already know of his flawless technique and his wide and commensurately deep understanding of the repertoire, and those who have not made that journey who were in the audience would have been astonished at the depth of his perception of these masterworks as well as his sterling ability to convey his interpretations by way of a simply flawless technique.

In the D899 Impromptus Bebbington’s polished and elegant performances, sensitive and imaginative and rhythmically alive, were in the highest class. In contrast – though not so greatly contrasting – the Sonata D664 is the smallest of Schubert’s three such works in that key, and its charming gentleness was beautifully conveyed – on this basis, it would be difficult to cite another artist who plays Schubert with comparable understanding, showing such delicacy of touch and sensitivity in phrasing, as well as plenty of clear-cut power when needed.

To end, Chopin’s B-minor Sonata; from the essential observation of the first-movement repeat, it was clear that Bebbington knew exactly what this imperishable masterpiece is about. The repeat demands no carbon-copy of the exposition, but a subtle examination of the exordium itself – this is the subject-matter from which the entire fabric of this work grows and has its being. From that opening phrase, so compellingly enunciated and organically driven, this great work unfolded, layer upon layer, in the hands of a master-pianist.

The cheers that greeted the concluding bars were rewarded by a superfine account of Clair de lune from Debussy’s Suite bergamasque – the encore finished, the music-making was over … the memory will linger on.

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