In 1976, when Roger Smalley AM (1943-2015) emigrated from England to take up a position at the School of Music at the University of Western Australia he was well established as an internationally renowned composer. Intermodulation, the new music group he co-founded in 1969, described as a “four-person live electronic improvisation type ensemble”, performed regularly throughout Europe in the following seven years. A formidable pianist, Smalley had studied with Stockhausen, given British premiere performances of several of his Klavierstücke, and brought this deep immersion in the European experimental music scene with him to Perth, where he remained teaching, researching, performing and conducting until retirement in 2007.
Smalley had a profound impact on the development of contemporary musical composition in this country. Now, three Perth-based musicians have come together to celebrate and record five works by their “teacher, mentor and friend” composed between 1969 and 2008.
Transformation (1969) is the earliest and is cited by some as the first use of the electronic technique of ring modulation in conjunction with piano (generally attributed to Stockhausen’s Mantra, from 1969-70). Transformation was not performed in Australia until a 2016 concert in tribute to Smalley (who had died the previous year) by new music ensemble Decibel, whose Artistic Director Cat Hope also had a long association with Smalley. The incomplete score was painstakingly recreated from sketches, notes and archival material by Adam Pinto and Chris Tonkin, who performed the work (on piano and electronics) in 2016 and feature on this world premiere recording. It’s an exciting, glistening work, full of shimmering overtones, recorded with beautiful presence and resonance.
Monody (1972) is also scored for piano and electronics, and followed chronologically by two percussion works: Ceremony I (1987) and Music for an Imaginary Ballet (1994). Both are performed by Paul Tanner, whose precision and artistry produces a sonic landscape of tremendous depth and nuance.
A late work, finally: Morceau de Concours (2008) for piano, commissioned for the Sydney International Piano Competition and performed by Pinto. It begins in languid, impressionist style but quickly veers into a Scriabin-like frenzy: testing, virtuosic, and thrilling. Again, Pinto is first in the world to record it.
This is a beautifully recorded collection of works, consummately performed and of considerable historical significance, particularly for recent developments in Australian musical composition.