Through a Glass Darkly

William Yeoman
Limelight (Australia)
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If it’s true that the writing and performance of music is both a homage to, and criticism of, everything that’s gone before, then Australian composer Roger Smalley represents the ultimate one-stop shop. Smalley’s long and distinguished career has embraced not only composition but music criticism, teaching, performing and conducting. Originally from England and very much a part of the ’60s avant-garde scene, Smalley moved to Australia in the early ’70s and went on to create a distinctive body of work based on a fruitful re-engagement with tonality. That last statement is more than borne out by the three meticulously-crafted works on this disc. The Horn Trio (2000-2002) takes as its starting point one of Smalley’s own melodies – from his Contrabassoon Concerto – and convincingly traverses the ground between serialism and diatonicism, all the time throwing up passages of hectic urgency and profound lyricism. These latter are especially legion in the ‘Mirror Variations’ of the central movement. By contrast, the Piano Quintet of 2003 and the Second String Quartet (1999-2000) make use of two of Chopin’s mazurkas – fertile ground for any modern composer given Chopin’s taste for chromatic inflection. The Quintet’s final ‘Chaconne’ is especially attractive in its résumé of Chopin’s favourite forms – waltzes, polonaises, etc. – while the single-movement String Quartet eerily conjures up the additional spectres of Schubert and Beethoven. Performances are superb throughout.