Bebbington and Donohoe Leamington recitals


Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa *****
Covid-delayed, the Leamington Music Festival Weekend which is traditionally held each May finally went ahead as September moved into autumn, and the heroic organisers could have received no finer reward than the two splendid piano recitals we heard on Saturday 25th.
Both were from local pianists, beginning at lunchtime with Hagley's Mark Bebbington, who celebrated this year's centenary of the birth of Leamington's own Robert Simpson with a magisterial account of the composer's Variations and Finale on a Theme of Haydn. The work is intricately structured, but its clever architecture gives place to the sheer musicality with which Simpson explores sonorities, searching through tonalities and commanding the keyboard much in the manner of Schumann and Mussorgsky in similar constructions.
Bebbington drew a huge range of colours from the excellently set up Bechstein piano, articulation clearly defined, and in the huge concluding double fugue marshalled huge reserves of stamina both physical and intellectual, evoking the demands of Beethoven's mighty examples of the genre.
And Beethoven indeed completed the programme, Bebbington delivering the Appassionata Sonata with an authentic improvisatory air yet with an underlying sense of inevitability. This was a stunning, authoritative performance, and were it not for very different hairstyles one could have imagined Beethoven himself creating such sounds from the keyboard.
Beethoven's mighty and fearsome Hammerklavier Sonata was the climax of the evening recital from Solihull-based Peter Donohoe, who made no apologies for reminding us just how much of a colossus this epic work is.
Truth to tell, his account of the imperious opening movement had a swiftness which skated over its immense difficulties, depriving the music of its essential feeling of striving strenuousness. Subsequent movements made much more telling an impact, with the massive, desolate slow movement followed by a cascading fugue (Simpson was surely influenced by this), Donohoe's amazing fingers tumbling out cosmic trills and headlong scales.
His opening half was all Schubert, the four Opus 90 Impromptus overladen with a significance and weightiness they were never meant to be burdened with, but the C minor Sonata totally gripping, Donohoe welding all its profligate melodic ideas into a convincing unity, and making the tarantella finale (where one can easily go into automatic pilot and never find the way out) a masterclass in rhythmic control and how to punch below the belt as the right hand thudded across the left one.
Christopher Morley

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