McCabe
Upon Entering a Painting
Two Scenes from ‘Edward II’ – The French Court; The Barons
Basse Danse
Gaudi (Study No.3)
Sonata (Homage to Tippett – Study No.12)
Piano 4 Hands – Joseph Tong & Waka Hasegawa (pianos)

Recorded 21 & 22 December 2010 in Henry Wood Hall, London
CD No: QUARTZ QTZ 2088
Duration: 68 minutes
Reviewed: October 2012
Sunday 7 October 2012 – Black on Maroon, one of Mark Rothko’s “Seagram Murals”, is vandalised at Tate Modern. One cannot condone such an act, of course, but it cued an audition of this (unfortunately languishing!) disc of John McCabe’s music for two pianos, for piano/four hands and for solo piano, Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa doing the honours.
The opening work, On Entering a Painting (2009, piano/four hands), was inspired by the artistry of Rothko... From the opening bars one is involved in an exploration, a journey, here linked to particular Rothko canvases, to what McCabe terms their “inner life”, and also a satisfying musical argument on its own terms. From initial investigation to explosive propulsion, often intoxicating in its strong rhythmic allure and tintinnabulation, those bell-sounds breaking down towards the end into slow-motion.
There follow transcriptions for two pianos from McCabe’s ballet, Edward II (1995). ‘The French Court’ suggests the opening of Stravinsky's Petrushka as the tunes hurtle around, busy within the texture, before the aggression and brusqueness of ‘The Barons’. And, after a bold opening, the variety of Basse Danse (1970) keeps the listener’s ears “alive to the sound of music” en route to a thrilling conclusion.
Following this the pianists each have a solo turn. Hasegawa plays Gaudi (Study No.3, 1970), an extended and extremely demanding work by McCabe (himself a fine pianist, of course). Hasegawa plays with total confidence music that is hard-hitting in its gestures and which also enjoys scurrying figuration; music that pounds and searches outer limits, and – in keeping with Gaudi’s prowess as an architect – seems to build; quite an uncompromising if compelling piece.
The Sonata that is McCabe’s Study No.12 (2009) is often beguiling in its soundworld and rhythms, a superb ‘Homage to Tippett’, a great composer. McCabe clearly reveres his music, alluding to it and quoting from it, while remaining his own man. Joseph Tong plays it superbly, with a magical dissolve at the close.
The recording is good, and the booklet embraces notes on the pieces by John McCabe himself. He speaks of these performances by Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa as “musical friendship”, and such dedication easily makes itself known to the listener. A very rewarding release.

 

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