Mark Bebbington

Concert date: 15 October 2021
Reviewed by: JRC

Celebrity pianist Mark Bebbington gave a concert for Nadsa in Newton Abbot last Friday, a welcome return after nine years. His programme introduced us to some less well-known works and contained familiar favourites, two of which he had played for us in 2012. Would the 2021 performance live up to our glowing memories? Yes and more!

Cesar Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue was relatively new to me. Mark brought the work to life. Broken chords were both smoothly stroked and emphatically proclaimed. Though this is a work in three movements, there was a great sense of cohesion.

On hearing Beethoven's 'Appassionata' Sonata, we experienced the music’s rapid mood changes from anger to despair that we expect from this work of emotional turmoil. Strangely, however, it was in the quieter second movement that my heart leapt; Mark gave each phrase direction. He took us from a calm space to a dappled wonderland and back to serenity - an understandable quiet before the tumultuous storm of the third movement. We were fortunate to hear such a definitive rendering of this very popular work.

The English composer John Ireland wrote 'Sarnia' in 1940/41 at around the time he was evacuated from Guernsey, Sarnia being the Roman name for Guernsey. The brooding mystery of the first piece, La Catioroc, developed into awe and wonder of majestic proportions only to be overtaken by a more humdrum spirit, which itself retreated into pensive decline. The next piece 'In a May Morning' was a mixture of delicacy and light. I felt a hint of Gershwin, but the era of Coward, tennis and tea was never far away. This performance evoked a hugely evocative nostalgia.

In 'Song of the Springtide' Mark's nuances of touch and rubato were put to an altogether different function, that of building, from ethereal alignments of celestial bodies, the insistent strength of a Spring tide. Its zenith was brief and the retreat surprisingly sudden.

And then we came to Liszt. Mark told us that Liszt had visited the Westcountry and given a concert at Teignmouth, but not Newton Abbot, during his hair-raising 1840 European tour. Moving our thoughts to the twenty-first century, how lucky we Newton Abbot residents are. We have heard Liszt's Wagner and Verdi transcriptions, superbly played by Mark to much acclaim, twice in the last ten years. Neither transcription could have been heard at Teignmouth as they were written after Liszt's  travels, by horsedrawn coach, in the Westcountry.

Liszt described his transcription of Wagner's 'Liebestod' as "modest propaganda on behalf of the sublime genius of Richard Wagner". Well, that was certainly selling himself, and this dramatic tragic romantic work, short. 

Mark's programme finished with Liszt's 'Paraphrase de Concert from Verdi's Rigoletto'. Here was a totally different mood, in spite of the dire tragedy on stage of Verdi's opera. The exhibitionism and showmanship of Liszt and Verdi combined to give the virtuoso performer a rousing grand finale.

Mark chose a suitably appropriate encore, John Ireland's ‘The Island Spell’, sending us home with a mixture of sparkle and serenity. 

This was a superb concert, and it was gratifying to see that a large audience (including Cllr Carol Bundy deputising for Newton's Mayor) were there to appreciate it.