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Smalley: Poles Apart, Etc / Finch, Continuum Ensemble


Release Date: 05/25/2004 
Label:  Nmc   Catalog #: 83   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Roger SmalleyFrédéric ChopinJohannes Brahms
Performer:  Douglas Finch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Chopin and Brahms miniatures are played in a way that points up their links to the present, the Intermezzo in particular emerging as a startling, shifting, modern harmonic exploration. Smalley (born 1943 near Manchester, England) makes expressionist capital out of them in the two sets of variations that open and close the disc. Those on Chopin, for piano solo, a modest and Gnomic suite, are not so far from the apparently unrelated Rochberg, but in the end they link Smalley with the British tradition of virtuosity, represented by Tippett and, especially, Ronald Stevenson. This is a 10-minute work that could easily find a stable place in the repertoire.

Crepuscule’s 15 variations on Brahms for piano quartet are twice as
Read more long, and far more intense. Yet all the pieces stop short of nasty-noise territory, and have a clear emotional core, related to the creative world of the Romantic composers concerned. Poles Apart even brings a whiff of Strauss, Reger, and early Schoenberg, while the solemn, tonal, contrapuntal lines of the Piano Trio are also dissolved into a glass of fin-de-siecle laudanum. It’s in the dark variations of the last movement of the Trio that questions, maybe doubts arise. The references, intentional or not, are to Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, to Schnittke, Webern (a snatch of the symphony?), Ives, and the stated Chopin source (another Mazurka): worthy antecedents, all. What the hell, I guess—if Smalley, leaving behind his avant-garde heritage like so many other composers, has made something convincing out of the jumble. He has succeeded, perhaps, in the Trios, thanks to his sense of line, but we have definitely been here before.

Poles Apart is more funky and quirky, but there are yet more unannounced references to late Shostakovich right from the opening bars, after which the ride through Schoenbergian and Stravinskyian gesture and texture feels quite cerebral but invigorating. Crepuscule is the best and most enjoyable work here (the best saved for the end of the CD again). The work dates from 1998, and suggests Smalley is less beholden to his influences, and more his own man. I know that is not a very post-modern description of the compositional process, but I think it’s the real story here.

It is a very long way from here to Stockhausen, where Smalley began. Familiarity with these works has bred some affection and respect (for Douglas Finch too), rather than the other thing. Well done again, NMC, saviors of current British music. What does it all mean? I don’t yet know, but it is interesting to hear so many musical lines converge in one unpretentious musical package, and this CD of Roger Smalley’s recent chamber explorations is well worth a listen.
Paul Ingram, FANFARE Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Poles Apart by Roger Smalley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Australia 
Notes: Composition written: Australia (1990 - 1992). 
2.
Trio for Piano and Strings by Roger Smalley
Performer:  Douglas Finch (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Australia 
Notes: Composition written: Australia (1990 - 1991). 
3.
Variations on a theme of Chopin by Roger Smalley
Performer:  Douglas Finch (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; Australia 
Notes: Composition written: Australia (1988 - 1989). 
4.
Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano by Roger Smalley
Performer:  Douglas Finch (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Australia 
5.
Crepuscule by Roger Smalley
Performer:  Douglas Finch (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Australia 
Notes: Composition written: Australia (1998 - 1999). 
6.
Mazurkas (3) for Piano, B 145/Op. 50: no 3 in C sharp minor by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Douglas Finch (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Paris, France 
7.
Fantasies (7) for Piano, Op. 116: no 5, Intermezzo in E minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Douglas Finch (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 

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