Gramophone

A splendid release includes first recordings of three studies and the imposing Tenebrae. Hard on the heels of her Dutton disc featuring John McCabe’s Second Piano Concerto, Honma plays eight of his solo pieces, including some of his most characterful music. Five of the eight large-scale studies that he has intermittently composed since Capriccio and Sostenuto in 1969 are here; the most recent composed in 2001 in homage to Dukas (Evening Harmonies) and Domenico Scarlatti (the brief, scherzo-like Scrunch, full of appropriately scrunchy harmonies). Hopefully, Honma and Metier will complete the series on a future disc, coupled perhaps with the magnificent Haydn Variations and Fantasy on a theme of Liszt. Make no mistake: Honma is a superb player. The composer provides his imprimatur of her in the booklet, but hearing her one appreciates immediately how technically able and interpretatively alert she is. Comparing her account of the 1963 Variations to McCabe’s own, she almost matches him for power and catches its febrile intensity to perfection. McCabe has repeatedly said that he has no interest in writing a piano sonata, a shame since the Variations ­ practically a sonata anyway ­ give a tantalising hint of what it would sound like. So does Tenebrae, the large-scale fantasia written in 1992-93 for Barry Douglas. Honma’s view of this magisterial utterance will no doubt develop and broaden in coming years, but even now it is a remarkably eloquent achievement. Metier’s sound is typically clear without being clinical, the acoustic picture warm and full. If you want a single disc of McCabe’s piano pieces this newcomer will not displace his BMS programme, but neither is it second best either. My advice is, buy both. Very strongly recommended.

—Guy Rickards