MCCABE Silver Nocturnes. The Woman by the Sea
Two and a half years after his death, McCabe’s music continues to appear on disc (witness also the marvellous recordings of piano works from Jane Ford – Prima Facie, 11/17), but one featuring the man himself at the piano is special indeed. The Woman by the Sea (2001) is the third and longest of his piano quintets (after Nocturnal, 1966, and Sam Variations, 1989), and the first to be recorded. It was inspired by the final scene of Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 film Sansho Dayu in which – at the end of her life – a mother is reunited with a son kidnapped years previously. An intense, emotional tone poem, shot through with the sound of the sea, McCabe’s 2009 recording made at Champs Hill reminds us not only what a fine pianist he was but what a fine chamber musician, too. His partnership with the Sacconi Quartet yields the finest performance of this work I have heard.
The Sixth String Quartet, Silver Nocturnes (2011), is an austerely radiant fusion of quartet and song-cycle, beautifully performed here with the baritone Roderick Williams. A memorial piece, in memory of the late Simon Boosey, it sets verses by three 16th-century poets, including Sir Philip Sidney, framed by quotes from Richard II. If the structure sounds Brittenish, the music is pure McCabe. The three-movement Horn Quintet (2010‑11) is outwardly abstract but seems to have been inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like the Quartet, the Horn Quintet is a remarkably subtle composition and familiarity only deepens respect for the composer’s craft so unobtrusively deployed and manifestly understood by the Sacconi and David Pyatt. NMC’s sound, mastered by David Lefeber, is superb. I cannot recommend this strongly enough, and there is a free download available with the disc of McCabe’s piano trio Desert III: Landscape.