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A Garland for John McCabe
Linda Merrick (clarinet)
John Turner (recorder)
Alistair Vennart (viola)
Peter Lawson (piano)
rec. 2017, Carole Nash Room, Royal Northern College of Music; Carole Nash Hall, Chetham’s School of Music; Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, Manchester University.
DIVINE ART DDA25166 [79:35]

This disc presents nineteen tracks written in memory of the composer John McCabe, who, sadly, died in 2015, I say composer, although he is chiefly thought of as a pianist, with many fine recordings to his name, his set of the Haydn piano sonatas for Decca (443 785-2), being a highlight. But a composer he was, and I was happy to have met him once at a performance of one of his works, there are also a number of fine recordings of his music that attest to his talent and uniqueness in this form, with one of my favourite recordings being of his String Quartet No. 5 by the Vanbrugh Quartet on Hyperion (CDA67078) with its allusion to the life cycle of the bee.

Each of the pieces recorded here were composed in 2016, and pick on a specific aspect of John McCabe’s life, music or his name, and develop these into musical tapestries that form a fitting memorial to the great man. The impetus for this disc came from a concert held in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music in which thirteen of the pieces presented here were performed. The emphasis here is to take either a theme or an aspect of McCabe’s character and weave a short work around this, something which has been done here with great aplomb. I will discuss a few pieces here rather than all nineteen works.

The disc opens with A Rag for McCabe by Peter Dickinson and with this piece the playful nature of McCabe is captured well, it is scored for clarinet, recorder, viola and piano, and whilst this might sound an odd combination, the instruments blend together well to produce a fine introductory piece.

Both Edward Gregson and Robert Saxton employ the piano in a manner in which McCabe would have been proud. Gregson’s Sarabande also using the recorder to great effect in this piece, whilst Saxton uses all four instruments in a piece based upon the notes corresponding to the letters in joHn mcCABE.
Malcolm Lipkin, who himself has, sadly, died recently, cleverly uses a quotation from a Haydn piano sonata in his piece, and so harks back to McCabe’s role as a recording artist, and a composer with which he will always be associated.
Christopher Gunning in his Danse des Fourmis for recorder, clarinet and piano once again highlights the humorous side of McCabe’s character, and this is followed by a beautifully plaintiff Chaconne by David Matthews, which again is based upon the letters of his friends surname, and which is I think, my favourite track on the whole disc.

The disc ends with a celebration of single malt whiskies, one of McCabe’s favourite vices, by Gary Carpenter. Composed for all four instruments, this is a fitting conclusion to this disc, as it not only brings in an aspect of McCabe’s character, but also an aspect of memorial in the slower sections of this piece.

As a whole this is a wonderful set of pieces, with a great variety of styles and make up of ensemble, but throughout the performances are excellent. Peter Lawson’s piano playing is thoughtful and at times evocative of McCabe’s own style, whilst John Turner’s tone is, as ever, beautiful throughout, with the same being true of both that of Linda Merrick and Alistair Vennart, with all performers having a significant part to play in my enjoyment of this disc. The sound is very good and this helps to get the best from the music, as do the booklet notes, a heartfelt introduction by Monica McCabe, and a short introduction to each piece by the composer. This is a fitting memorial to John McCabe, one which I feel he would have both enjoyed and been embarrassed by for all the attention.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: John France

Peter DICKINSON (b.1934)
A Rag for McCabe (recorder, clarinet, viola, piano) [1:53]
John JOUBERT (b.1927)
Exequy (viola) [5:49]
Edward GREGSON (b.1945)
John’s Farewell (recorder, piano) [2:09]
Robert SAXTON (b.1953)
A Little Prelude for John McCabe (recorder, clarinet, viola, piano) [2:09]
Howard SKEMPTON (b.1947)
Highland Song (recorder, clarinet, viola) [2:34]
Elis PEHKONEN (b.1942)
Lament for the Turtle Dove (clarinet, piano) [6:19]
Robin WALKER (b.1953)
And will you walk beside me down the lane? (recorder, clarinet, viola, piano) [5:03]
Malcolm LIPKIN (1932-2017)
In Memoriam John McCabe (clarinet, viola, piano) [2:56]
William MARSHALL (b.1992)
Little Passacaglia (recorder, piano) [4:46]
Martin ELLERBY (b.1957)
Nocturnes and Dawn (Patterdale) (viola, piano) [4:54]
Rob KEELEY (b.1960)
Elegy for John McCabe (clarinet, piano) [4:36]
James Francis BROWN (b.1969)
Evening Changes (recorder, clarinet, viola) [6:06]
Gerard SCHURMANN (b.1924)
Memento (piano) [3:27]
Anthony GILBERT (b.1934)
The Flame has Ceased (recorder, viola, piano) [4:46]
Christopher GUNNING (b.1944)
Danse des Fourmis (recorder, clarinet, piano) [4:10]
David MATTHEWS (b.1943)
Chaconne (clarinet, viola, piano) [4:00]
Raymond WARREN (b.1928)
In Nomine (recorder, piano) [7:42]
Emily HOWARD (b.1979)
Outback (recorder, clarinet, viola, piano) [2:26]
Gary CARPENTER (b.1951)
Edradour (recorder, clarinet, viola, piano) [2:35]



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