An integral component of McCabe's music is repetition, be it notes, rhythm, or textures.
In no way need this be a restriction or weakness in composition. Neither
can it be dubbed a mannerism. McCabe uses it knowingly as part of the construction
process. His fascination and skill in the use of orchestral colour lends
itself well to the use of repetition, whether in ostinato, rhythmic patterning,
or a cumulative and sometimes hypnotic chatter.
Taking the Flute Concerto first - written for James Galway
in 1989 and premiered in London - McCabe the colorist is very much in charge,
and considering the acrobatic nature of the flute, necessarily so. On balance,
his use of the orchestra here is effervescent, the textures giving an extra
sheen to the flute's flights of fancy [listen, track
16, 00:00-00:51], or high-register leaps over brass and percussion
in sudden climaxes.
The single-movement conception binds the three succeeding groups that
are generally fast-slow-fast. Probably this concerto will lure the listener
to its charms more readily than the symphony. But do not, as a consequence,
neglect the sterner arguments of the symphony.
The symphony I can feel as a continuation of the path he chose with the
first symphony, which I know very well. The subtitle, 'Of Time and the River',
is a quotation from a book read during work on the fourth symphony, which
helped to focus the composer's mind on temporal matters. Music involves
time, and McCabe uses it here artfully to gradually diminish speed to a
moment of stillness somewhere midpoint, and then reverses the process. There
are other devices from the same idea providing the composer with means to
process development, tension [listen, track 7, 00:00-01:13],
and release. Basic thematic material is cell-like and the repetition technique
engenders its sturdy growth [listen, track 8, 00:00-00:50].
The resultant symphony brings a satisfying encounter for listeners. McCabe's
language resource was mastered at an early age, and remains substantially
the same, but obviously matures from slight shifts of emphasis as his worklist
Both works - so well played by the BBC Symphony under Handley - add substantially
to McCabe's claim for a yet-more-secure position amongst Britain's ever-growing
army of talented composers.
Copyright © 19 April 2000 Basil Ramsey,
Eastwood, Essex, UK
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