Mark Bebbington

Piano Sonata in B flat, D960
Piano Sonata No.2 [World premiere]
Nocturnes – in B flat minor, Op.9/1; in F, Op.15/1
3 Mazurkas, Op.63
Mephisto Polka, S217
Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, S447
Concert Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto, S434

Mark Bebbington (piano)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 1 June, 2005
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Taking a break from his ongoing and very valuable series focussing on the British Piano Sonata, Mark Bebbington offered here a varied programme which, if it worked no better in performance than on paper, gave notice of his breadth of sympathies as surely as it did his inclusiveness of technique.

Placing the last and most inward of Schubert’s sonatas in the first half of a recital is a challenge in itself – and one that, on this occasion at least, Bebbington did not quite bring off. The highlight was an Andante whose distilling of expressive clarity out of tonal ambiguity proved both limpidly and movingly achieved. He had the measure of the first movement’s otherworldly odyssey, though it was a mistake to omit the exposition repeat (as with the corresponding movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, this can never sound the same even were it played in identical fashion to the first time around), and the lead-back to the reprise was just a shade over-indulged. The scherzo was suitably vivacious if a little lacking delicacy – while in the finale, Bebbington’s understandable concern to bring out the music’s underlying agitation led him into a vehemence which bordered on the aggressive. A curate’s egg of a performance, but one which undoubtedly gave notice of a true Schubert interpreter in the making.

After the interval, the premiere of Tom Ingoldsby’s Second Sonata (2004) – the middle instalment of what the composer intends to be a trilogy of such works playable either singly or together – proved a delight: its six-minutes a succession of capricious variants on the sprightly opening gesture – given with a scrupulous attendance to phrasing and continuity, such as made the piece a larger and more demonstrative entity. A pity, perhaps, that Bebbington chose not to play it after Liszt’s Mephisto Polka, to whose almost throwaway profundity it would have made an admirable foil. As it was, the latter item was preceded by a Chopin miscellany – namely two early Nocturnes, rendered here with searching eloquence, and a late set of Mazurkas – which, if they lack the melodic appeal of many of their predecessors, adapt the basic rhythmic pattern in ever more unexpected and intriguing ways.

The official programme ended with two Liszt transcriptions: the ‘Liebestod’ from “Tristan und Isolde”, played with a restrained passion that made it more akin to the ‘verklärung’ that Wagner had envisaged the piece in its operatic context; and the “Rigoletto” Paraphrase, which points up the music’s exposed emotion as surely as its inherent theatricality, and which received a suitably bravura rendering. Time still for a gentle encore in the guise of a Danza Española by Granados – repertoire in which Bebbington clearly feels at home, and which will no doubt feature more fully in his recitals before too long.

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