Mark Bebbington has made a name for himself as a persuasive champion of British piano music, his expressive and exciting recital on Wednesday featuring the works of John Ireland, who died fifty years ago.
Ireland is still an underrated composer and Bebbington highlighted a variety of his more optimistic compositions. The programme also included works by contemporary composers, John Joubert and Charles Dakin.
Birmingham-based Joubert’s Lyric Fantasy on themes from the opera Jane Eyre echoed Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, depicting the troubled love between Jane and Mr Rochester. Bebbington’s interpretation perfectly demonstrated Jane’s innocence through gentle lyricism, and the passionate and brooding nature of Mr Rochester with wide dynamic contrasts and dissonant, tormenting harmonies, in a reading combining strength and intensity with a gentle, poised touch.
The premiere of Shropshire-born Dakin’s Three Pieces commenced with a haunting Lento tranquillo which combined melody and rhythm in the hypnotic style of Satie. A rhythmic, staccato Allegretto provided an invigorating contrast, whilst the concluding Largo evoked images of the rolling Shropshire countryside surrounding us. Bebbington’s fluid performance captured the Impressionistic style and atmosphere perfectly.
Rhapsody, a recently discovered Ireland manuscript written in 1906, concluded the evening, illustrating the deep contrast it provided with Ireland’s later works. Had Ireland chosen to continue in this style, influenced by Rachmaninov and Liszt, we might have been celebrating a great English Romantic, rather than an inspirational English Impressionist.
This performance was full of beautiful, contrasting colour; Bebbington’s light, velvet tone interspersed with vigour and brilliance, communicating perfectly with his spellbound audience in this atmospheric farm-barn high in the Shropshire Hills.