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Review: British Piano Festival at Adrian Boult Hall

Without recordings vast amounts of British music would languish in obscurity - but nothing beats hearing it performed live.

Without recordings vast amounts of British music would languish in obscurity – but nothing beats hearing it performed live.

I enthusiastically reviewed a CD of three rarely-heard concertos for piano and string orchestra performed by Mark Bebbington with the Innovation Chamber Ensemble (strings from the CBSO) conducted by Richard Jenkinson.

The same performers proved these engaging works shine even brighter on the concert platform. The second concerto of Malcolm Williamson – an Australian but also Master of the Queen’s Music – is the most immediately attractive, eclectic influences weaved together with great facility, from the jagged rhythms of its Bartok-lite opening to the jazzy tuneful finale.

The opening movement of Gordon Jacob’s concerto opens with a solo flourish (a nod and wink to Grieg perhaps) and tiptoes out, while the ICE players excelled in the wistful adagio.

The mournful musing central slow movement of Doreen Carwithen’s concerto had a tender interplay between the soloist and ICE leader Zoë Beyers while Bebbington relished the substantial cadenzas in the outer movements. Carwithen composed the concerto in 1948 a remarkable work for a twenty-five-year-old.

In the festival’s final concert Bebbington played Robert Matthew-Walker’s Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet (Piano Sonata No.3) not once but twice since the composer missed the opening performance due to an errant cab driver.

The composer insists the sonata is neither programmatic nor a character study but a series of “moods” – which is a perfect fit for Shakespeare’s moodiest protagonist.

It moves rapidly from rage (pounding single notes) and obsession (an ominous death-fixated bass figure) interspersed with moments of poignant lyricism, ending in the tolling bass where it began. It’s a rewarding piece for player and listeners.

Rebeca Omordia was a star turn with a stunning performance of John Ireland’s The Scarlet Ceremonies, devilishly difficult but despatched with aplomb.

Omordia has often partnered cellist Julian Lloyd Webber so it was fitting she should play his father William’s Three Spring Miniatures – modest, tuneful, a mite too cosy but very likeable.

Sofia Sarmento gave a powerful reading, stronger on declamation than impressionism, of Ireland’s Sarnia: An Island Sequence, a musical portrait of Guernsey where he once lived.

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