A Garland for John McCabe
Three years on from his death, John McCabe shows no signs of being forgotten. His music is still performed and recorded (including the start of a survey of his complete piano music) and tributes and memorial events such as the present disc continue to appear. Such is the affection for a composer and performer who balanced creative genius and generosity of spirit in equal measure, with nary a trace of ego.
The 19 works collected here, all composed in 2016, form a wonderfully balanced sequence of pieces large (Raymond Warren’s In nomine runs close to eight minutes long; the pieces by James Francis Brown, Joubert, Robin Walker and Elis Pehkonen are around six) and small. Although the prevailing mood is elegiac-to-wistful, encapsulated by Joubert, Gregson, Saxton and Keeley, there are plenty which remember John’s engaging, pithy sense of humour: A Rag for McCabe by Gramophone contributor Peter Dickinson, Brown’s Evening Changes (one of the few ensemble pieces to omit McCabe’s own instrument, the piano) and Christopher Gunning’s delightful Danse des Fourmis (all featuring John Turner’s recorder prominently); Gary Carpenter’s Edradour closes proceedings by celebrating John’s love of single malt whisky!
The musical styles are many and varied, from the formally dramatic, as in Gerard Schurmann’s Memento, the only piece for piano alone, the abstract (David Matthews’s Chaconne, Marshall’s Little Passacaglia), and straightforwardly tonal (Gunning, Skempton), to more complex harmonic tapestries, as in Anthony Gilbert’s The Flame has Ceased. Several works evoke Haydn, whose sonatas McCabe famously recorded in the 1970s and which have remained a benchmark recording ever since, or use musical ciphers derived from McCabe’s name, while Emily Howard’s Outback evokes McCabe’s Desert series. Beautifully performed by all four players and recorded to match, John would have been delighted.