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Nearly three years since John McCabe’s death, recordings of his music continue to appear. Prima Facie’s series devoted to his complete piano music features the hugely gifted Jane Ford. Even more than her actual playing, which is exciting enough, the project is being realised by a pianist and label with no particular connection to McCabe the man: the quality of his piano music speaks for itself.

Ford presents the music in chronological sequence, providing a fascinating insight into McCabe’s development over his full career, from two of his most experimental sets, Impromptus (1959, for John Ogdon) and Bagatelles (1964, brief studies in serialism for students) to the 13th and final Study, Berceuse (2011). Afternoons and Afterwords (1981), also for advanced students, was part of a series edited by Richard Rodney Bennett, while Lamentation Rag (1982) is a fun piece written to celebrate the 250th birthday of Haydn.

McCabe was best known as an orchestral composer of symphonies, concertos and ballets, including Mary, Queen of Scots (1974/5). Four years later he composed the Paraphrase as the fifth in his series of self-suffi cient studies for piano, each of which examines ‘aspects of either pianistic or compositional technique’. Paraphrase is both prelude and fugue, and a homage to Lisztian operatic fantasias. Snowfall in Winter (No 9; 2003) and Tunstall Chimes (No 10; 2004) are homages to Debussy and Ravel respectively, dwarfed by the massive 11th study, Epithalamium (2006), inspired by ‘the two great chords that swing to and fro during the Coronation Scene in Musorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov.’

Ford’s colourful playing shows a clear understanding of the music’s wide variety of moods. Prima Facie’s sound is excellent.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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