It was the culmination of a long-held dream when the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra led by Bernard Docherty and conducted by Christopher Austin recorded the Suite No. 1 from John McCabe's ballet, Arthur Pendragon, at the City Hall in Glasgow, in mid-June. Arthur Pendragon is the first of a cycle of two full-length ballets on the legend of King Arthur, commissioned for the Millennium for David Bintley and Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Four sections are chosen for the Suite for this spectacular, passionate and dramatic first ballet. The first concerns Uther Pendragon and his ascendancy as chief war-lord over the British tribes, in the face of the Saxon invaders. The second depicts the magical night in which Uther, shape-changed by Merlin to resemble King Gorlois, seduces his wife Igraine, and begets Arthur upon her. The next section shows the Tourney at which Arthur proves himself the rightful king (though not the actual Sword in the Stone episode); while the finale gives the anguished parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, prior to her wedding to Arthur.
Two other works were also recorded. The first was Pilgrim, richly reworked as a piece for double string orchestra, from its original commission as a string sextet, written to commemorate Luton Music Club's 50th Anniversary, and also in commemoration of John Bunyan. While secondly, McCabe was himself the soloist in his own Piano Concerto No. 1.
Christopher Austin has a strong connection with both the Suite and Pilgrim. It was at his instigation that the latter work was rewritten, for his Brunel Ensemble in 1998; while he also helped in the choice of material for the Arthur Pendragon Suite, and conducted the first performance, with the Hungarian Radio SO in Budapest, in 2000.
The recording, produced by Bill Lloyd, was a dual-purpose one with the BBC, and the CD will be issued by Dutton, hopefully around Christmas.