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[Gramophone] Contemporary composer: John McCabe. Excerpts.

There are very few musicians like John McCabe (1939-2015). One of Britain’s finest composers in the past half-century, his prolific output covered every major genre bar grand opera. These genres include seven orchestral symphonies (1964-2007; plus two others for solo organ and wind ensemble), seven string quartets  (1960-2012), 13 sizeable studies for piano (1969-2011) and 26 concertos or concertante pieces for most of the standard orchestral instruments, as well as the concertos for chamber orchestra, and the acclaimed Concerto for Orchestra premiered by Solti in 1984. His musical style was highly individual, based on a mix of Vaughan Williams, Britten and Tippett leavened with Karl Amadeus Hartmann and serial procedures – although his writing has always been tonal.

Yet McCabe had, at times, been even better known as a pianist of formidable gifts and wide-ranging sympathies with a repertoire extending from the contemporary to the pre-Classical. His recordings have garnered much acclaim, most notably the mid-1970s series for Decca of the complete Haydn piano sonatas, hailed in these pages as ‘one of the great recorded monuments of the keyboard repertoire’ (12/95). His recordings also cover works by contemporaries and friends such as his former composition teacher Thomas Pitfield, Rawsthorne, Joubert, David Ellis, Casken, Saxton, John Adams and William Schuman, as well as Bax (violinsonatas with Erich Gruenberg and the piano sonata original of the First Symphony), Grieg, Hindemith and – in duet with Tamami Honma – Britten, McPhee and Stravinsky’s Agon. His CV includes lecture-recitals on Webern’s Piano Variations and the UK premiere of Corigliano’s Piano Concerto, but also includes guides on Bartók, Haydn and Rachmaninov and a book-length study of Rawsthorne.

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