Smalley, Chopin, Brahms

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Chopin,Smalley
WORKS: Poles Apart; Piano Trio; Crepuscule; Trio for clarinet, viola & piano; Variations on a Theme of Chopin; Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op. 50/3; Intermezzo in E minor, Op. 116/5
PERFORMER: Douglas Finch (piano); Continuum Ensemble/Philip Headlam
Born in 1943, Roger Smalley was an important figure in British contemporary music in the late Sixties and early Seventies. He was a performer (founding the group Intermodulation with the late Tim Souster), an eloquent writer on new music and a highly accomplished composer in his own right, whose early music was influenced by the techniques of Maxwell Davies and then by his collaborations with Stockhausen. But in the mid-Seventies Smalley took up an academic post in Western Australia, and his later music has been heard less and less frequently in Britain, though the emergence of a symphony and a piano concerto in the Eighties gave some hint of the way in which his thinking was moving. This useful collection, deftly played by pianist Douglas Finch and the instrumentalists of the Continuum Ensemble, shows how Smalley’s musical outlook has continued to evolve and how over the last decade (none of these works is precisely dated on the disc) the music of the 19th century has become a vital reference. Chopin mazurkas form the starting points for the Chopin Variations for solo piano, the Piano Trio and Poles Apart for five instruments; the Trio derives from Brahms’s E flat Clarinet Sonata, and the piano quartet Crepuscule from one of his Op. 116 Intermezzos. Smalley never uses these sources anecdotally, though; he organises the material very personally, and the result is a curious symbiosis of past and present, between familiar ideas and musical territory that is fresh and original. Andrew Clements