Silver Nocturnes brings together three late chamber works by English composer John McCabe (1939-2015). Although a prolific composer from an early age, McCabe first found fame as a pianist, and his mid-70s recordings of the complete keyboard sonatas of Haydn for Decca are still revered.
Commissioned by Jo Boosey in memory of her late husband Simon, Silver Nocturnes (2011) is scored for baritone and string quartet. It comprises settings of poems by Henry Howard, Sir Edward Dyer and Sir Philip Sidney, three of the ‘Silver Poets’ of the 16th century, bookended by short excerpts from Shakespeare’s Richard II. It’s accompanied by two other McCabe works for string quartet and soloist: The Woman by the Sea (2001) with piano, performed by the composer, and the Horn Quintet (2010-11), written especially for its performers on this recording.
McCabe’s writing for strings is uniformly ravishing, from the dark intensity of The Woman by the Sea to the more contemplative and ethereal Nocturnes. The unusual combination of horn and string quartet works in seamless formation, and the unity here of three such disparate works is due in no small measure due to the Sacconi Quartet’s authoritative command and deep understanding of McCabe’s writing. Beautifully recorded with excellent balance, this disc also comes with a bonus download of a long out-of-print recording of McCabe’s Desert III: Landscape (1982).