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John McCABE (b. 1939)
Concerto for Wind Quintet (1969)
Musica Notturna (1964)
Fauvel’s Rondeaux (1966)
Postcards for Wind Quintet (1965 rev. 1991)
Fibonacci Sequence
Rec. 2002. DDD
DUTTON CDLX 7125 [67.31]

 

This disc brings together some of John McCabe’s finest chamber works in commanding performances marrying sensitivity with technical virtuosity. The earliest item on the programme is the Musica Notturna for violin, viola and piano, which was written in 1964 for Martin Milner, who had premiered the composer’s Baxian First Violin Concerto of 1959. As in some of the composer’s most characteristic works, this is in one continuous movement made up of a number of distinctly outlined sections. A slowly evolving, atmospheric opening section returns at the end to round off the work. This opening material is treated as a theme providing a source of variations in the form of melodic and harmonic transformations. Two quick, rhythmic sections enclose a central passacaglia of latent power. The first Allegro contains echoes of the second subject of the Finale of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto (Track 6: 4’ 17’’ – 4’ 35’’) and the spirit of the Russian master hovers over the second Allegro passage too, though it may be going too far to point out the famous D-S-C-H motto theme among the work’s semitonal figures. It makes for a deeply satisfying work dating from the time of McCabe’s orchestral ‘Hartmann Variations’ and conveying a similar impression of a distinctive voice emerging in British music.

The Concerto for Piano and Wind Quintet dates from 1969 and is dedicated to Alun Hoddinott and his wife. It is another piece in one continuous movement with several sections joined together, this time by means of two related mini-cadenzas, one for horn, the second for clarinet. The central Vivo section is initiated by a flutter-tongued flute figure redolent of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem; it turns up again in the central section of McCabe’s Concerto for Orchestra of 1982. A virtuoso piece, especially for the pianist, this concerto is small scale only in terms of the forces required – technically and emotionally, it is on the grandest scale.

The remaining pieces, Fauvel’s Rondeaux (1996) and Postcards for Wind Quintet (a 1991 reworking of a set of bagatelles dating from 1965) are also welcome additions to the McCabe discography. The former work contains the most demanding writing on the programme, culled as it is from some of the most darkly potent music from the composer’s very fine Edward II ballet music, whilst the Postcards usefully encapsulate different facets of McCabe’s style from jazz and fugue to the nocturne.

The Fibonacci Sequence play with great understanding and character in these rewarding works and the recording is clean and well balanced. I look forward to more McCabe on Dutton from these players in the future – there are a number of early works in the composer’s output which I am sure would reward investigation such as the Partita for String Quartet (1960), Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano (1964), String Trio (1965), Nocturnal for Piano Quintet (1966), the Oboe Quartet (1968) and the Sonata for Clarinet, Cello and Piano of 1969. In the meantime, this release is warmly recommended.

Paul Conway

 



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