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Mccabe: Concerto For Orchestra, Chagall Windows; Arnold: Philharmonic Concerto

Release Date: 11/18/2008 
Label:  Lpo   Catalog #: 23   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Malcolm ArnoldJohn McCabe
Conductor:  Bernard HaitinkSir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

McCABE Concerto for Orchestra. 1 The Chagall Windows. 2 ARNOLD Philharmonic Concerto 3 Georg Solti, cond; 1 Bernard Haitink, cond; 2,3 London PO LPO 23 (69:42) Live: London 2/10/1983; 1 Read more 11/30/1975; 2 10/31/1976 3

John McCabe may be better known to some collectors as the pianist who first recorded all of the Haydn piano sonatas for Decca. Being a virtuoso pianist is only part of the package though, as he is equally gifted as a composer. That he is not particularly well known outside of Great Britain is a shame, so I’m pleased to welcome this single-disc reissue of two of his major scores from a 2007 four-disc London Philharmonic 75th anniversary set (LPO 98– Fanfare 31:5).

The Chagall Windows , arguably the finest of his orchestral works, was commissioned by the Hallé Orchestra and recorded by EMI with James Loughran and those forces just before the January 1975 premiere. Haitink and the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed it the following November, in a concert recorded for broadcast by the BBC. The windows are the 12 stained-glass creations by Marc Chagall at the Hadasseh-Hebrew University Synagogue in Jerusalem. While McCabe is at some pains to explain that this is “emphatically not program music,” it is hard not to hear the play of the light in the shimmering dissonances or to sense the luminous colors in the rich orchestration as McCabe moves from window to window. The 12 sons of Jacob, one per window, are sharply characterized, organized into groups that allow him to develop the work symphonically. Essentially a tonal composer, though he freely utilizes dissonances, McCabe is eclectic in the influences he has absorbed into his own voice. Michael Kennedy suggests Bartók, Vaughan Williams, and Britten, to which I will add Ives’s dreamlike scores and Messiaen’s bird song. Those who know Loughran’s dramatic rendition will be struck with Haitink’s greater emphasis on the ethereal and luminous aspects of the score—the use of the celesta and harp is particularly telling—but he does not skimp on the stirring moments, either. With a soundstage that is just slightly distanced and more naturally balanced, this LPO version is my preferred one by a small margin. I would not, however, want to be without the EMI couplings; the piercingly beautiful song cycle Notturni ed alba and the Hartmann Variations on EMI 63176—available as an on-demand CD reissue—or the powerful Symphony No. 2 on EMI 67120, which is out of print but worth finding used or remaindered.

The Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by the LPO for their 50th anniversary, is an altogether grimmer work; angry and unsettled. McCabe has stated that the five-movement format was suggested by Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien , though I can discern no other connection than the titles. A more obvious parallel would be Bartók’s five-movement work of the same title, though if there is intent in the various similarities, it is odd that McCabe doesn’t acknowledge them. Be that as it may, the effect of the two works is very different. Where the terminally ill Bartók suffused his work with hope and sardonic humor, McCabe seems to offer bleakness and conflict. Even the Romanza is harsh and unsettled. The Concerto, however, is significant in the best sense, beautifully crafted and virtuosic in its demands on the orchestra. Just don’t expect much comfort, especially in Solti’s intensely committed performance. Bostock’s version on Classico 384 is a fine one as well, but not superior in any way to Solti’s.

The Malcolm Arnold Philharmonic Concerto is another LPO commission. After a typically upbeat, brilliantly brassy opening, Arnold’s work turns darker as well, though with a thin light-music patina that has always seemed deeply disturbed to me. Depressive viola themes give way to carefree tunes with no apparent reason. Climaxes of Waltonian triumph arise out of nothing. Still, the orchestration is dazzling and the style distinctive, and I know there are those who find Arnold’s music fascinating. This first-rate performance led by Haitink will no doubt please them. The McCabe would be my reason for acquiring this CD.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Philharmonic Concerto, Op. 120 by Malcolm Arnold
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; England 
Concerto for Orchestra by John McCabe
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1983; England 
Chagall Windows by John McCabe
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1974; England 

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