At long last the Ballet Suite No 1 from McCabe's full-length ballet Arthur Pendragon has been released on CD, by Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7179). The record also contains McCabe's Piano Concerto No 1, with the composer as soloist, and his double string orchestra version of Pilgrim, all gloriously performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Austin.
The two-evening ballet Arthur was commissioned by Birmingham Royal Ballet, and choreographed by David Bintley. Part I (Arthur Pendragon) and Part II (Le Mort d'Arthur) are both full-length ballets, and have occasionally been performed in one day, Part I in the afternoon and Part II in the evening. The length and complexity of such a ballet makes it difficult to envisage frequent performance, but this Ballet Suite from the first Part makes available some of the music, including scenes for Lancelot and Guinevere, and Morgan le Fay and Uther Pendragon, along with a boisterous Tourney and finally the Wedding of Arthur and Guinevere, against the background of the slaughter of the innocents. The orchestra includes a large number of exotic percussion instruments, and the Suite was first performed by Christopher Austin with the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Budapest in 2000.
Christopher Austin not only helped McCabe to compile the Ballet Suite but also commissioned the double string orchestra version of Pilgrim for his Brunel Ensemble in 1998 - the original version, for string sextet, was commissioned by Luton Music Club two years earlier. Inspired by Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, it is a substantial single movement in which, as the composer has said, the music "reflects my response in musical terms" to themes of a journey of self-discovery, and a rediscovery or renewal of faith.
At the same time, McCabe's early Concerto funèbre for viola and small orchestra has been released on another Dutton CD (CDLX 7186), which also contains works for viola and orchestra by David Matthews, William Alwyn, Holst and Elizabeth Maconchy. The superb artists are Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) and Orchestra Nova, conducted by George Vass. Written in 1962, the work was revised in a few details specially for this recording.
It has taken a number of years to raise funds to put this suite from the Arthur ballet music out on CD. The two-evening cycle Arthur contains much music we hope eventually also to see on record.