Mark Bebbington St John's Church, Hagley
Despite having the necessary technique, Mark Bebbington is by temperament not really a virtuoso pianist. In something gentle and introspective, where tone colour, shading and structure are paramount (like the Chopin and Schubert we heard on Saturday) he is quite matchless.
But in Liszt, whose musical landscape is littered with technical minefields, Bebbington seems a rather reluctant superhero, often treading with caution.
He ended his Hagley Festival recital with two Liszt transcriptions - Wagner's Liebestod and Verdi's Rigoletto - which, although displaying all the required intensity, noise and glitter, didn't actually burst into life. (And the Fazioli piano, so responsive in quieter passages, sounded unpleasantly tinny
when pressed to its limits.)
Bebbington's Chopin group, however, was perfectly judged, the two Nocturnes dreamily melodic and tonally enhanced by extremely subtle pedalling, the Op.63 Mazurkas similarly played with a languid poetry that kept their dance elements elegantly subdued. Impressive as it was, it paled into insignificance alongside Schubert's great Sonata in B flat, D960.
In a stunning performance, Bebbington brought an almost Mozartian grace and sensitivity to this supremely beautiful work, the repeated-note patterns of the Molto moderato blending into the music's fabric like rhythmic decoration.
The rest was just as persuasive, especially the restrained Scherzo, while the Finale, whose ma non troppo indication informed Bebbington's whole attitude - natural progression, development, and remembrance of what had gone before - was virtually faultless.