Through a Glass Darkly

Tony Way
The Age 'Green Guide' (Australia)

This well performed selection of chamber music by Perth composer Roger Smalley was written from 1999-2003. These compositions, like others he wrote in the past two decades are based on "deconstructed fragments of music" and wrestle with "re-integration of tonality". Such phrases may sound alarm bells with listeners who fear enduring the earnest attempts of a dislocated modernist striving to make himself acceptable in a supposedly neo-romantic age (he was a student of Stockhausen). Luckily, this disc demonstrates that Smalley has enough humour, love of the traditional repertory and compositional skill to allay these fears.

The Piano Quintet (2003) appropriates idioms to meld them into a satisfying whole. A driving, motoric opening (think Shostakovich) cedes to a quiet intermezzo and then a scherzo in which we hear references to a Chopin Mazurka. Elements of the Chopin emerge in the long, final Chaconne; an interesting study in light and shade. Written for hornist Darryl Poulsen, the Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano again underscores Smalley's ability to contrast moods; the lyricism of the middle movement forming an oasis in the midst of aridity. Cast as a single movement, String Quartet No.2 demonstrates his appreciation of quartet techniques and is worthy of a wider audience.