Mark Bebbington continues to consolidate his position as an exemplary interpreter of 20th-century British piano music with this intimate pairing of Arnold Bax and Harriet Cohen, Bax’s longstanding mistress and the dedicatee of most of his keyboard music. I knew Cohen as a forward-thinking interpreter of Bach, but she also championed fellow British composers and the likes of Sibelius, Bartók and Shostakovich.
The odd Bach transcription aside, here is a rare example of a short series of picture postcard sketches of Russia – Russian Impressions (c.1913). Although Cohen’s music is attractively presented within a ‘Debussy meets Delius’ soundworld, the praise for this collection lies more with Bax’s work – particularly this performance of his muscular 1921 Sonata in E Flat, which easily surpasses John McCabe’s earlier essay of this rather stern yet highly Romantic work by utilising a wider tonal palette and sense of conviction.
The disc features eight premiere recordings in the impressionistic and Romantic style we associate with Bax and, of particular interest, a set of contrasting Four Pieces from 1947, when Bax had become often a ‘made to order’ Master of the King’s Music. However, Bebbington convinces that these pieces belong together like a set of fine watercolour studies. Recorded by SOMM with their usual warm and life-like acoustic, Private Passions is a highly attractive addition to Bebbington’s expanding discography.
Composer: Bax, Cohen
Composition: Piano works
Performer: Mark Bebbington p
Catalogue Number: SOMM SOMMCD0193