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Piano Concertos by Delius & Grieg

Mark Bebbington, Irene Loh; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/
Jan Latham-Koenig (Somm)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Delius • Grieg
Delius: Piano Concerto; Three Preludes for Piano; On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring* (arr. Warlock); Grieg: Piano Concerto Op.16; Sketches for Piano Concerto No. 2 in B minor (arr. Matthew-Walker)
Mark Bebbington, *Irene Loh (piano); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Jan Latham-Koenig
SOMM Recordings SOMM269 74:59 mins

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The big curio here is the premiere recording of sketches for Grieg’s unfinished Second Piano Concerto. Diligently reconstructed by Robert Matthew-Walker, with a bit of topping and tailing, these add up to around 150 bars. As the fragmentary ideas were never a consistent movement, it is perhaps unsurprising if they do not sound like one now, despite the arranger’s best efforts and a familiar-sounding drumroll at the outset. One can nevertheless detect a hint of Grieg at his most rugged, and a certain potential for adventurousness in harmonic language. Mark Bebbington, both with and without the orchestra, plays what there is with passion and conviction.

The pairing of the more famous Grieg with Delius’s Piano Concerto, meanwhile, is apposite: the two composers were good friends and there is plenty of Grieg’s influence in Delius (if perhaps less the other way). The two concertos are a good contrast from one another, Delius’s involving ample gestures towards the contours of Negro Spirituals he would have heard in Florida. Both concertos are somewhat hampered by the close miking of the piano and slightly strident sound quality. Some orchestra-soloist coordination issues occasionally prove problematic, possibly induced by the tempos – the Grieg Concerto slow movement risks sluggishness. Still, Bebbington brings in a good dose of bravura and also finds, together with the RPO, an appealing chamber-music character in the Grieg, with some warm, thoughtful exchanges between piano and woodwind. One of the most enjoyable pieces is Warlock’s arrangement for piano duet of On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, performed by Bebbington and Irene Loh with lilting, ballad-like spirit.

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Jessica Duchen