REVIEW: Grieg and Delius Piano Concertos

Concertos by Grieg and Delius form the twin pillars of Mark Bebbington’s new Somm release in collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig. These are supported by Grieg’s sketches for his never-finished Second Concerto in B minor, realised by Robert Matthew-Walker, who also contributes the elegant, informative booklet notes. Bebbington rounds out the programme with Delius’s Three Preludes, published in 1923. Finally, with Irene Loh, he plays On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring in a four-hand transcription made in 1913 by the 19-year-old Peter Warlock.

Though Bebbington now has some 25 recordings to his credit, this was my introduction to his work. His beautifully cultivated sound at the instrument is especially striking. Despite his ear for the smallest detail, he easily conveys a sure grasp of larger structures. He possesses an inviolable kinetic sense that will not be rushed and his rubato is generous without seeming indulgent. The life of the phrase is always his first commitment.

These qualities combine to make Bebbington’s Grieg A minor Concerto very persuasive indeed. The opening Allegro culminates in a genuinely heroic stance, free of stentorian bluster, though the drawn-out tremolando cadential figures strike me as less than convincing. Following a poetic take on the spacious Adagio, the finale has plenty of crisply rhythmic verve, alternating with affecting lyricism.

The less familiar Delius Concerto offers greater play for Bebbington’s interpretative imagination and he meets its considerable virtuoso challenges with ease. This concerto also provides a more decisive role for the orchestra, amply filled by Latham-Koenig and the RPO. In both the concertos and the sketches for the B minor Grieg, microphone placement seems a bit distant, though this is not a major distraction.

Freshness and spontaneity characterise the fleeting Three Preludes, making one wish Delius had left more piano music.

Patrick Rucker, Gramophone
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