Mark Bebbington has built a reputation as one of the greatest exponents of British piano music, and one of his finest achievements has been his advocacy of the Piano Sonata by John Ireland.
This made a crowning end to his recital on Thursday devoted entirely to native composers, and the latest instalment in the enterprising Gloucester Music Society’s “A Pageant of English Music” season.
Before that triumph, however, we heard a fascinating array spanning more than a century of composition, including a work completed only this year, the Piano Sonata by Matthew Taylor, and here given its premiere.
Taylor crams a lot into its 17 minutes, his command of piano-writing allowing a rich vocabulary of well-melded gestures to tumble into life (not least growly repeated notes in the bass register which worm the Liszt Sonata into the ears). There is much dance-like tenderness in the three central movements, inspired by the births of his two daughters, and a grittier structural template in those that frame them. But what screams out from the work is a natural feel for melody which is fractured into distortion.
Bebbington delivered the piece with what Taylor himself described as “authority and sensitivity”, and another composer, Ian Venables, was present to hear his own Caprice, its clarity and forward movement captured perfectly by the pianist.
This is music whose ideas are instantly memorable and identifiable, working towards a big ending which teases at containing so much more.
We also heard rare solo piano works by Ivor Gurney, Sehnsucht outstanding among them for its veiled anguish, Bebbington’s legendary pedalling permitting long, dying-away endings, and Arthur Bliss’ Four Masks, witty, brittle, and owing less to the Stravinsky cited in the programme-notes than much more to Satie and the Debussy of Suite Bergamasque – that punning link needs to be explored.