JOHN MCCABE (1939-2015): The Woman by the Sea for Piano Quintet, Silver Nocturnes for Baritone and Strng Quartet, Horn Quintet.

Catalogue Number: 12T051

Label: NMC

Reference: D230

Format: CD

Price: $18.98

Description: These three quintets are very different, and not only in the composer's choice of instrument to complement the string quartet; his very idiom seems to adapt to the changing needs and message of the works, while always remaining true to his characteristic chromatic-tonal vocabulary. The bleak The Woman by the Sea was inspired by the final part of Kenji Mizoguchi's 1954 film 'Sansho the Bailiff' in which a principal character is reunited with his mother, a blind, decrepit, ancient woman living out her life in despair at having been separated from her children who had been sold into slavery many years ago. The music is powerfully evocative; mostly slow and lamenting, initially unable to escape a monotonous, thudding drumbeat from the piano, it suggests furious outbursts of short-lived anger, imagery of the sea, the keening cries of the old woman calling out her children's names to the indifferent ocean, and only at the end a kind of somber resolution. Silver Nocturnes was commissioned as an in memoriam piece, but the grieving here is of a different kind from that of The Woman by the Sea; closer, more immediate, and expressed in the elegant lyricism of three 16th century poets. Pastoral sadness and autumnal loneliness give way to fury in a dissonant instrumental interlude; then a notably more tonal and consonant setting of Sir Philip Sidney's 'My true love' suggests acceptance. The horn quintet is 'pure' music - aside from some references to hunting calls in the first movement and hints of a 'Midsummer Night's Dream' program in some fleet-footed episodes that intrude on the drowsy calm of the second movement. The work is buoyant and optimistic, with calm, pastoral sections, and the angular dissonances in the vigorous, muscular first movement are bracing rather than stressful. Texts included. Sacconi Quartet, John McCabe (piano), Roderick Williams (baritone), David Pyatt (horn).

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