When I reviewed
the first volume of the Ashley Wass
Naxos cycle of Bridge I was a good deal
less impressed than most of my colleagues
and went into some detail to explain
why. I also added, as a postscript,
a comparison of "The Hour Glass"
with the recording by Peter Jacobs (Continuum)
and the present one, which had just
arrived for review. I thoughtBebbington
somewhat better than Wass but found
the Jacobs recordings basically unchallenged.
I have at last had time to hear the
rest of Bebbington’s disc.
First of all, there
is one performance here which shows
him to have real potential; that of
the once ubiquitous "Rosemary",
the second of the "Three Sketches".
He sounds simple yet genuinely star-struck
in the outer sections and is passionate
and powerful in the central section.
Jacobs here tries too hard. His outer
sections are sticky and he spurts ahead
too quickly in the middle. In the other
two "Sketches", though, Jacobs
wins with tauter rhythms and shapelier
I only have volume
3 of the Jacobs cycle so the only other
comparison I have is with the Sonata.
I do get the idea, though, that he has
lived with this music longer and made
it a part of himself. Maybe Bebbington
needed another five years – at least
– before setting all this down. There
are too many signs of the kind of "instant
interpretation" that is the result
of a sort of sight-reading plus that
can easily reach a point of no return
if the artist does not put his house
in order. I do not mean by this that
he is snatching at half-learnt notes
- from this point of view everything
has been confidently studied - but the
process of assimilating music, of taking
it up, performing it, setting it aside
then taking it up again, all this several
times over, requires years. I can only
report that the aural evidence suggests
that Jacobs had gone considerably further
along this particular road before going
into the studio. The opening of Capriccio
no.2, from Bebbington, has its rhythms
dotted in a way that would be more acceptable
in Purcell or Charpentier. In general
his response to a group of four semiquavers
– the opening phrase of "Nicolette"
from the "Vignettes" for example
– is to dot the first one and make the
second a demi-semi-quaver. This is no
compensation for genuine shaping and
colouring. Dance rhythms, as in the
"Valse Capricieuse" (the third
"Sketch") or "Carmelita"
(the first "Vignette") lose
their contours and therefore their lilt.
Add to this a tendency to insert gratuitous
commas between phrases – a habit to
be noticed in both Capriccios – and
rhythmic confusion is complete.
I complained that Wass
did not clarify the different strands
in contrapuntal textures by colouring
them. Bebbington is better in this respect,
as I already noted with regard to "The
Hour Glass", but when the going
gets tough, as in the Sonata, his textures,
too, become congealed and congested.
As a result of the combination of these
factors, quite frankly there were whole
pages in the Sonata where, even with
the score in front of me, the music
made no sense at all. In his hands this
work – supposedly one of the masterpieces
of 20th century British music
– emerges as an amorphous, sprawling
piece of mediocre ranting.
We can only close our
eyes and try to imagine what Richter
or Gilels might have made of this Sonata,
but Peter Jacobs is always clear-sighted
and shapely, achieving genuine power.
The opening pages of his finale, for
example, have a drive that eludes Bebbington.
You will not doubt the music’s stature
in his performance.
So I’m sorry, there’s
no contest. Maybe Jacobs will be bettered
one day but he’s acceptable while Bebbington
The booklet notes are
brief and to the point. They are also
translated into French so presumably
Somm hope to market this beyond the
confines of Great Britain. A laudable
idea in principle. I hope that any foreigner
who tries this and ends up by sniggering
about the Brits who insist on thinking
they’ve got composers – living in Italy
I sometimes come across this attitude
– will take the time to ask themselves
what we might think of Ravel, Scriabin,
Prokofiev or the Berg Sonata if the
only way we had of judging them was
in performances like this.
see also review
by John France