Arnold, Lambert

COMPOSERS: Arnold,Lambert
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Arnold , Lambert
WORKS: Arnold: Sonata in B minor; Two Pieces; Variations on a Ukrainian Folk Song; Lambert: Sonata; Elegy; Suite in Three Movements; Elegiac Blues
PERFORMER: Mark Bebbington (pno)
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 062.
With well-received discs of music by Gurney and Howard Ferguson, a Frank Bridge series underway, and now this – recorded in Constant Lambert’s centenary year and presumably intended as an 85th birthday present for Sir Malcolm Arnold – Mark Bebbington is fast becoming the knight in shining armour to the damsel in distress that is neglected 20th-century piano music.

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Mind you, ‘damsel’ is hardly the word for the mostly youthful music recorded here. The 20-year-old Arnold’s B minor Sonata sidesteps the baggage of Liszt’s heroic essay (not without poking a little gentle fun in passing?) and jovially crossfertilises with a Spanish nod here, a touch of jazz there, and the finale is so off-the-wall it makes the average Shostakovich Scherzo look positively po-faced. Like Lambert’s example of 1929 (which flirts knowingly with popular idioms) there’s a suspicion that as a sonata things don’t quite add up – but Bebbington’s ‘maths’ are exemplary.

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More successful are some of the smaller works such as Arnold’s affectionate ‘Two Pieces’ or Lambert’s evocative ‘Suite’. Throughout Bebbington plays with scrupulous clarity and control, and with a palette that rejoices in crisp, bright colours. His energy is infectious, and the recorded sound is clear as a bell, if a tad ‘close’. Paul Riley