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Review: Romantic Favourites, Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, Elgar Concert Hall, University of Birmingham

 

****
Pianist Mark Bebbington
Pianist Mark Bebbington

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 is a work that rarely fails to please, even when the soloist has nothing new to say.

Mark Bebbington, however, is an intelligent pianist who often shines fresh light onto familiar material, and here he refused to let this much-loved showpiece become just a pyrotechnic display.

Admittedly, his desire to nail every note clearly into place made some passage work sound like five-finger exercises, and his bravura flourishes seemed too calculated, but he relaxed enough to hit all the right romantic buttons in the latter stages of the Adagio.

 Elsewhere balance between orchestra and soloist could have been more sensitively judged: fortissimos often exploded into a shouting match, and in the finale one sensed conductor Richard Laing would have liked the big tune to have been more spaciously drawn than Bebbington’s nervously energetic tempo allowed.

Laing conducted Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony from memory, so eye contact and precise cuing (so important to amateur players) were at a premium.

We may have missed the full blooded warmth and poised delicacy of Tchaikovsky’s string writing that only full time professionals can deliver, but the BPO is a confident ensemble and the various tutti unisons and scurrying passages of the finale sounded very well drilled.

 As expected, the brass blazed in spirited fashion, while the folksong elements of the Andantino brought out the best of the woodwind players.

Like Dvorak’s The Noonday Witch, which opened the concert, it was a committed, secure reading, pleasing to hear and generously true to the music.

 

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