Mccabe: Arthur Pendragon – Ballet Suite No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 1; Pilgrim

LABELS: Dutton
WORKS: Arthur Pendragon – Ballet Suite No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 1; Pilgrim
PERFORMER: John McCabe (piano); BBC Scottish SO/Christopher Austin
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 composers? 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