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Selected reviews

Orchestral Music

Notturni ed Alba / The Chagall Windows / Hartmann Variations

EMI/HMV Greensleeves

"John McCabe has not perhaps had the general acceptance, as a composer, that I think his music deserves. It is strong, or gentle, as the occasion demands; it is often of great beauty, with many ravishing sounds produced by some exceedingly accomplished scoring; its harmonic idiom is generally a development of tradition, seldom a contradiction of it; and emotionally the music tends to concentrate on what is right with the human race, not what is wrong with it."

Malcolm McDonald - The Gramophone

"John McCabe ... is a superb orchestral colorist ... with his own distinctive sort of inventiveness .. The song-cycle (Notturni ed Alba) is simply gorgeous ... this is highly desirable music.."

J.D. - Fanfare Magazine

The Chagall Windows

"His work combines picturesqueness with formal strength, somewhat in the manner of Bartok's ballet scores."

Paul Griffiths - The Times

Concerto for Orchestra

"Some of the best music composed for some time by anyone, anywhere occurs in McCabe's Concerto for Orchestra."

Peter Stadlen - Daily Telegraph

"Though McCabe has often allowed visual images to suggest music he really strikes me as a purely musical mind, and the Concerto for Orchestra confirms his amazing talent as a Musikant."

Stephen Walsh - The Observer

"It proved a point I have made for some time, that when new music is clearly of merit, the audience recognises this. "

Robert C. Marsh - Chicago Sun-Times

"It will be a pleasure to hear it again."

John von Rhein - Chicago Tribune

Fire at Durilgai

"This 20 minute piece is sustained by the striking quality of its musical ideas and processes ... McCabe's ear for timbre, texture and harmonic flow is as discerning as ever. And the result is an attractive and exciting score, almost too rich in ideas and lush harmonies, but certainly relished by the BBC Philharmonic and Edward Downes. "

David Fanning - The Independent

"... a score which is brilliant in its clarity, vivid in its colouring, and consistently taut in its rhythms."

Gerald Larner - The Guardian

"The Australian night sky music has sparkling activity above its sustained chords, and the fire music is underpinned by a broader harmonic sense ...If the effect of working on two or more levels at once is Sibelian, the course of the music is entirely McCabe in its quick-changing patterns and obsessive variations, ingeniously exploiting and reconstructing its basic material in a sequence of increasingly exciting events, rather than a cumulative argument. That restlessness gives further point to the final re-emergence of vast and inexorable processes."

Robert Maycock - The Independent

"He convincingly captures the sinuous glint of preliminary sparks, the crackle of kindled timber, the vigorous spread of flame, and the eventual roaring blaze ... The way in which the central long scherzo subtly arises out of the slow music preceding it and subsides back into broad tempo did indeed invite comparison with Sibelius as the great master of musical movement ... the easy confidence of his gestures and mercurial effectiveness of his formal plan were definitely impressive."

Paul Driver - The Sunday Times

"... the music, never one-directional for more than a few seconds, soon becomes a masterly kaleidoscope of changing instrumentation. Finally, the work virtually blows itself up, in a chord which grows in volume to a deafening tamtam-dominated ending."

Richard Morrison - The Times

"But the vividness and intensity of the score seemed really to derive from the composer's conquest of childhood traumas left behind after he himself was badly burned. Fear and terror were banished. This was jubilant fire music and a perfect vehicle for the virtuosity of the BBC PO, performing here under the baton of Edward Downes."

Meirion Bowen - The Guardian

Flute Concerto

"It is a beguiling collage-piece, the flute ruminating against the soft string and percussion background or twisting on the high wires with its orchestral colleagues ... between brass-laden crests of the wave."

David Nice - The Guardian

"... his deft scoring achieved the clarity of chamber music, periodically submerging the soloist so that he emerged unscathed to assert his identity within the fresh ensembles - including a series of fetching duets and trios with the three orchestral flutes spread across the stage. The whole was sumptuous in effect ..."

Nicholas William - The Independent

Hartmann Variations

"McCabe is an all-round and thorough musician - a fine pianist, a critic and author ... and a prolific, accomplished composer. He goes his own way, as Hartmann did, not raising waves, yet not failing to give satisfaction to mind and ear in all that he writes and plays."

Andrew Porter - The New Yorker

"Thursday evening's concert by the Halle Orchestra got off to a scintillating start, thanks to the Hartmann Variations by the Hong Kong Arts Festival's Composer-in-Residence, John McCabe .. At first hearing this is a logical work, easy to listen to, with beauty and humour as well as pure orchestral colour, Mr. McCabe's talent is insistent and original; we are fortunate to have been given this sort of exposure to his music at the Festival."

Jane Ram - South China Morning Post

Notturni ed Alba

"A richly-coloured and dramatic setting...Unlike much contemporary music, it has all the ingredients for popularity."

Martin Long - Sydney Morning Herald

Piano Concerto No. 1

"The piano writing, like the treatment of the extensive percussion section, is fresh and effective and strikes one by its originality ... This is one of the most skilful of recent works in the form by British composers."

The Musical Times

Piano Concerto No. 3

"This concerto is a work that revels in live sound and in the interaction of the soloist with the orchestra."

Anthony Payne - The Independent

Red Leaves

"... reveals the creator of Notturni ed Alba again weaving his magical nocturnal spell."

Roderic Dunnett - BBC Music Magazine

Symphony No. 1 'Elegy'

"McCabe endows every move with compelling musical purpose ... this is music which deserves to last..."

David Fanning - The Independent

Symphony No. 3 'Hommages'

"Gorgeously coloured ... McCabe's score grips the attention throughout."

Felix Aprahamian - Sunday Times

Symphony 'Of Time and the River'

"... the composer has an arrestingly direct way of addressing his audience that counts as a significant gift. He has taken pains to make his music accessible and those efforts were rewarded by a warm reception. Most of us know John McCabe as a distinguished pianist who has frequently visited Australia. This new symphony underlines his status as a master-composer as well."

Clive O'Connell - The Age (Australia)

Violin Concerto No. 2

"A compelling and beautifully conceived work, which should be allotted an immediate place in the concerto repertory. "

The Strad

"The orchestral music is richly and grandly coloured."

William Mann - The Times

Chamber and Instrumental Music

Desert I : Lizard / Concerto For Piano and Wind Quintet

"The experience was spell-binding and a persuasive argument for elevating McCabe's profile in contemporary music. "

Michael John White - The Guardian

Desert III : Landscape

"A musical still-life of peculiar vitality."

Tim Page - The New York Times

Rainforest I

"It has a Ravelian sensuousness and delicacy of scoring."

Martin Pacey - The Independent

Rainforest II

"I found this work a powerful evocation of ... the rain forest north of Cairns in Queensland, Australia. It is a work of absorbing interest."

D.W. - The Yorkshire Post

String Quartet No. 3

"At a single listening, it was fascinating."

Mark Morris - Classical Music

Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano

"... these are marvellously characterized little mood pieces."

Richard Fairman - The Times

Keyboard Music

Haydn Variations for solo piano

"McCabe's music is that of a musician and pianist to his fingertips, wide-ranging and highly imaginative. His technique lives up to Eliot's ideal of 'an easy commerce of the old and the new'; the piano writing is challenging but grateful and the work should hold an audience's attention throughout its duration ..."

S.N. - The European Piano Teachers Association Magazine

Scrunch (Study No 8 - Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti)

"Scrunch (Study No 8 - Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti) is a burst of eclectic energy that demands much of a pianist as it makes its way from a rollicking opening, through passages built on jazz rhythms, to dissections and reconstructions of certain harmonic moves one finds in Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas"

Allan Kozin - New York Times

Choral and Vocal Music

From 'Cartography'

"I particularly enjoyed ... John McCabe's timeless juxtaposition of gentle harmony and prattling counterpoint for Jo Shapcott's meeting of man and land in Cartography. "

Hilary Finch - The Times

Requiem Sequence

"An exquisite, touching score. "

Stephen Pettitt - The Times

Music for the Theatre

Edward II - ballet

Please refer to the separate page of Edward II Reviews

Arthur, part 1: Arthur Pendragon - ballet
Arthur, part 2: Morte d'Arthur - ballet

"Composer John McCabe must take much of the credit. His marathon orchestral score ... underpins every nuance, every hitch of tension, every thundering climax ... What you hear is inseparable from what you see - surely the mark of a great dance score".

Independent on Sunday (Arthur Part I)

"... John McCabe's score is such a vast, sustained achievement - five hours of muscular music ranging through virtually every tonal style of the past 80 years - that it begs several more listenings ..."

Independent on Sunday (Arthur Part II)

"... John McCabe's achingly beautiful score ..."

Birmingham Post

"Somehow McCabe's score always seems to be on the ball, and this Bartókian undercurrent, more often than not, suggests personality, shifting mood, idyllic and perverted psychology, human consistency and inconsistency ..."

Music & Vision

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