British pianist and composer John McCabe is best known for his landmark Haydn sonata cycle on Decca, but he was very much a specialist in 20th-century music. McCabe, who died in 2015, was also a regular visitor to Australia, where in 1985 he made this recording of music by Australian and American composers, subsequently lost, but now unearthed by his wife Monica McCabe, salvaged from a Dolby cassette copy of the master tape.

What emerges are fine, atmospheric performances – despite never having received the edits the pianist hoped to make before the project was shelved – of what are still relatively rare works, several recorded here for the first time.

McCabe opens with a striking performance of Peter Sculthorpe’s 1981 Mountains, inspired by the Tasmanian wilderness. The Toccata by Wendy Hiscocks – whose query prompted the search for this recording – is dispatched with spikey verve, while David Maslanka’s Piano Song shimmers quietly. The dark anxiety of Don Banks’ Pezzo Dramatico contrasts with the misty haze of Graeme Koehne’s early Twilight Rain. The strange, boisterous fanfare of George Rochberg’s suite Carnival Music, which juxtaposes ‘serious’ forms with ‘popular’ music, such as blues and ragtime, is the largest work on the disc, which closes with Barney Childs’ reflective Heaven To Clear When Day Did Close.

While the sound quality isn’t perfect, it’s remarkable given the  recording’s provenance. A fascinating disc.


Composer: Peter Sculthorpe, Wendy Hiscocks, David Maslanska, Don Banks, Graeme Koehne, George Rochberg, Barney Childs et al
Performer: John McCabe p
Catalogue Number: Metier MSV28585