WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Concerto for Piano with Wind Octet; Nocturne; Balinese Ceremonial Music
PERFORMER: Stephen Drury, Yukiko Takagi (piano); Brooklyn PO/Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 67159-2 DDD
Colin McPhee (1900-64) is one of those names that crop up regularly in histories of 20th-century American music, yet he remains virtually unknown in the concert hall on this side of the Atlantic. To British listeners his connections with Benjamin Britten give him a bit more resonance – Britten met him while living in the USA in the early years of the Second World War, and was introduced to his transcriptions of Balinese gamelan music, even recording some of them with the composer, an experience that bore fruit more than 15 years later in his ballet The Prince of the Pagodas and later still in Death in Venice.
Of McPhee’s own use of this Balinese material, though, we’ve heard relatively little, but this compilation by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, following on from Decca’s recording of his Tabuh-Tabuhan a few months ago, fills in part of the picture. The disc contains the Balinese Ceremonial Music for two pianos from 1940, which Britten recorded, as well as the 1928 Piano Concerto which reveals the typical neo-classical influences Stravinsky, especially, exerted on young American composers of that times. But it is the works of the Fifties, the Second Symphony and the Nocturne, that are more intriguing. The exoticism is integrated here, with the gamelan patterns used texturally to produce washes of instrumental colour on a framework that remains basically neo-classical. It’s gentle, unprepossessing music, neatly crafted, but still with a flavour that is never quite like anyone else. Andrew Clements