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Discography

Id
3089
Ensemble Detail(s)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Soloist(s)
John McCabe (piano)
Label name
Dutton Epoch
Recording year
2006
Conductor details
Christopher Austin

Work Title
Composer

Reviews

I remember poring over this piano concerto in Manchester's Henry Watson Music Library in my teens, eager to see how 'modern music' was written, but not until now have I heard the piece. Its opening at once brought back the notation- piano trills stretching over pages. The soloist's entry, remarkably, is a minute-long trill, recalled in the third movement. The overall four-part structure is complex and dramatic, the idiom lean and laconic, and, in this account, the work as an often explosive energy....
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, 5/6/2007

It is an additional pleasure to welcome without reservation a CD of orchestral music by John McCabe, the more so as the composer – an excellent and selfless pianist – is the soloist in his own First Piano Concerto. Also on the disc are a suite drawn from his Arthur Pendragon ballet, and Pilgrim for double string orchestra. The Piano Concerto (the first of three) is dedicated – if memory serves me correctly - ‘to the people of Southport’ and will, as sound, not offend the mainstream twentieth century music enthusiast. Initially, I found myself puzzled after hearing it, me puzzlement being that the work frequently did not do what I expected it to do. I had to go back to it quite a few times, on each occasion finding more within the score, until I now know it to be an outstanding composition, very finely performed on this disc. The work which immediately caught my imagination is Pilgrim, a 19-minute study of John Bunyan’s character, which struck me forcibly as a work of high quality indeed. As Calum MacDonald rightly says in his admirable booklet notes, this work can stand alongside the Tallis Fantasia and Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra as another supreme example of English string writing. The conductor Christopher Austin secures a noble performance and the strings of the BBC Scottish Symphony excel themselves. Modern British ballet music is now virtually ignored by what used to pass for the ‘quality press’ in this country, not to say rendered non-existent by broadcasting organisations today. Of all established British composers, the relatively recent ballet scores of McCabe have shown what can be achieved by a gifted and imaginative composer in this field. I have not seen Arthur Pendragon, but on the basis of the concert suite on this disc I should very much like to. There are found movements, playing in total for about 28 minutes, which receive here vital performances in vivid dramatic style, very well recorded.
Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review, 6/1/2007

It’s difficult to get away from the impression that John McCabe means his music to be enjoyed. There is nothing hermetic or self-aggrandizing here, still less any desire to shock the audience into some sort of notional higher consciousness. His style is wide ranging. It can echo late Stravinsky, Tippett or the German symphonist Karl Amadeus Hartmann, and then veer off into an even more direct evocation of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, but all with an unmistakable English accent, and with something which – for want of a better phrase – can only be called the common touch. Even at its most abrasive or ingenious, it still has something of Malcolm Arnold’s directness and open-heartedness. The best example of this comes in the final section, ‘The Lovers’, from the Arthur Pendragon suite. There are some very Tippettish sounds here, but it’s Tippett without the edginess or the tendency to over-complication that flaws so many of his later works. The most consistently fine and distinctive piece is Pilgrim – what is it about massed strings that so often brings out the best in English composer? The strings of the BBC Scottish sound as though they enjoy every moment of it; but then the whole disc conveys conviction and dedication, and the composer makes a strong and authoritative soloist in the Concerto.
Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine, 8/1/2007


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