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.
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.
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