Through a Glass Darkly

Mark L Lehman
American Record Guide (US)

Roger Smalley is a British-born (in 1943) composer who has lived and worked in Australia since the mid 1970s. His earlier music is ‘contemporary’ in manner—sonoristic and prismatic, replacing tonality and recognisable themes with swirling masses of colour and activity. Diederik De Jong described Smalley’s large-scale 1981 Piano Concerto and 1985 Symphony (Nov/Dec 1993), as demanding but impressive, ‘never less than captivating in … vitality and multihued palette’. I’ve also listened to these works with admiration, particularly for their imaginative instrumental combinations that shimmer and roil like oceanic turbulence …

From 2002, Smalley’s three-movement, 23-minute Trio (for horn, violin, and piano) doesn’t crib from Chopin or any other predecessor. Instead, as the composer says, it ‘uses a melody of my own invention’ … The language (a free chromaticism that includes tonal references, not so distant from Britten and Tippett and their followers), the ideas, the play of invention, the structural logic, and the expressive force of the music—all have an authenticity and individuality … The central nocturne—an extended variations sequence—is particularly fine … Like everything else on the program, it’s expertly played and vividly recorded.