JOHN MCCABE (b.1939): Symphony No. 1 "Elegy" (London Philharmonic Orchestra; John Snashall. 1967 Pye LP release), Tuning (National Youth Orchestra of Scotland; John McCabe. 1986 Alpha cassette release), for Solo Piano: Fantasy on a Theme of Liszt, Capriccio (Study No. 1), Sostenuto (Study No. 2) (John McCabe [piano]. 1977 RCA LP release).
Catalogue Number: 12Q007
Description: McCabe is a distinguished symphonist, strangely under-represented as such on CD, and this superb early example is by no means a poor relation of the subsequent six. Tonal, and somewhat (not excessively) reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' tragic 4th and 6th, the three movements comprise a funereal prelude, full of tolling bell sounds, a scherzo that begins as a wry Totentanz and rapidly turns to militaristic violence, and a bleak finale full of beautifully melodic mourning, finally fading out in the sound of bells from the first movement, a sombre cortege receding into the shadows whence it came. The Fantasy very freely based on a fragment of the Faust Symphony, is a technically formidable work of Lisztian bravura, with a marvellously haunted central section over an eerie ostinato and a concentrated final section that suggests a modern successor to late Beethoven. The Studies are fully fledged concert etudes, as much thorough explorations of the ramifications of specific aspects of composing for the piano as technical challenges (though they certainly offer these in no small measure). The idea behind 'Tuning' was the accidental consolidation of chords that can occur when an orchestra tunes, and the work is a sonorous tapestry woven from repeating instrumental gestures from the various sections of the orchestra that almost could be idealized tuning patterns, punctuated by soloists 'trying out' motifs from some imaginary concerto for orchestra in a feat of clever compositional exuberance that turns into an effective and affectionate celebration of the orchestra by a craftsman skilled in its use.