WORKS: Bax: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra; Ireland: Piano Concerto; Legend
PERFORMER: Mark Bebbington (piano); Orchestra of the Swan/David Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 242
Written in short score in 1939, Bax’s previously unperformed Concertino is a much more substantial work than its title might imply. Its three movements, together lasting about half an hour, have here been orchestrated and, where necessary, judiciously fleshed out by Graham Parlett with understated and remarkable skill.
The composer’s war-shadowed thoughts come through in the music’s often sombre tone, although this lightens in the finale. And its best ideas – the whimsical opening, the piano’s brooding central monologue in the second movement – are vintage Bax.
The Concertino’s piano part, rather sparer than that of a fully fledged concerto, suits Mark Bebbington’s flair for lucid sonority (always beautifully judged) and the quality contribution of this Stratford-based chamber orchestra. Ireland’s Concerto, however, does need a larger string section; and while Bebbington’s feeling for the idiom is unerring, he doesn’t make all that much happen around him.
There’s a vivid sense of an excellent, up-for-it orchestra and conductor expecting more moments to respond to than they actually get. As in the Bax work, the shorter, sparer Legend – a strikingly dark creation by Ireland’s standards – suits the strengths of its performers much better, and makes for memorable listening. Malcolm Hayes