Orchestra of the Swan’s pioneering reputation took a turn back to the future for Wednesday’s matinee, doing its bit for the welcome rehabilitation of the music of John Ireland.
There was a time when Ireland’s Piano Concerto was an annual regular at the Proms, but a new regime at the BBC meant a veer towards a different direction of content. In recent years, though, this arguably greatest of British piano concertos (in my view, only Tippett and possibly Britten rival it) has undergone a revival, enthusing new audiences and indeed orchestral players new to it.
The soloist here was Mark Bebbington, who was greeted with immense applause and rewarded with an even greater ovation at the end of a reading in which he succeeded in encompassing the work’s recourse to the many-layered textures of Rachmaninov, the brittleness of Ravel and Prokofiev, and the rich, suggestive harmonies of Gershwin, all delivered with elegance and gentle persuasion.
David Curtis’ orchestra collaborated with deft commitment and the important timpani part linking into the finale was a dramatic presence; it was important, too, during the Legend which followed as a generous bonus.
Bebbington here built an impressively-sustained atmosphere in this brooding remembrance of a lost vision and it is good to know that both performances were recorded live for subsequent release on the SOMM label. Obviously, there will have to be some patching, not least to cover a mobile phone which went off at a particularly crucial point in the concerto.
A breezy, affectionate Vaughan Williams Wasps Overture and a sunny, lyrical Brahms Second Symphony topped and tailed the concert. We owe credit to sponsors Couch Perry Wilkes in these financially straitened times.