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Robert CRAWFORD (b. 1925)
Sonata Breve (1991) [4:58]
Piano Quintet (2005) [13:55]
Sonata No. 2 op. 5 (1951) [18:59]
Six Bagatelles op. 3 (1947) [13:14]
A Saltire Sonata (1991) [13:34]
Nicholas Ashton (piano)
Edinburgh Quartet
rec. 8-9 Oct 2007, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh; 17, 29 Nov 2007, Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh (Sonata 2, Saltire, Bagatelles)
world premiere recordings
DELPHIAN DCD34055[64:44] 
Experience Classicsonline

Robert Crawford’s oeuvre is not a large one by the standards of many composers but is characterised by a meticulous approach to detail. I first encountered his music on John Turner’s Aspects of Nature disc of British recorder music (Olympia, OCD714). Both piano and strings figured in accompaniment there as well as on the present disc.

Like many twentieth century Scottish composers (McGuire, Chisholm, even honorary Scot Leighton) Crawford’s music has a bracing, cleansing outdoor but not particularly pastoral feel to it. This can be traced back to the influence of his composition teacher Frankel and of Bartók in particular. Even so this composer is very much his own man. The earliest (and easiest) music here is the Six Bagatelles, written in his early twenties, initially with children in mind but his ambition soon outgrew this aim. This music is eminently listenable and the longest of the six lasts only just over three minutes. 

The Second Piano Sonata largely comprises fast music, including a quicksilver scherzo (at under a minute) although the third movement is more relaxed. Even more so than the Bagatelles, this is remarkably assured music for a composer just hitting his mid-twenties. The rest of the CD is given over to much more recent compositions. It is interesting to compare and contrast them with the youthful works while noting his long and self imposed “silence“ during the sixties and seventies. Even here all is not what it seems, as the apparently contemporaneous Sonata Breve and Saltire Sonata (both dated 1991) are, to quote Adam Binks’ informative booklet notes, “essentially thirty years apart”. That is to say that the Saltire - named for the cross of St Andrew, with the music inspired by its “double V” design - was actually first conceived at a much earlier date! Other than that they share some similarities: they both develop over a single movement format and are both relatively short. The word ‘economy’ is touched on with reference to Crawford’s muse but this must be understood in Sibelian terms of cutting away any excess, unnecessary musical baggage, rather than any suggestion of poverty of ideas. I would add the word ‘distilled’ here to the list of descriptors. 

The Piano Quintet is another single movement piece, reminding us again of how Crawford continues to hone and refine his art. He also regards this very recent piece as a summary of his life’s work so far. To that end it “draws in some brief quotations from several of my earlier works written over the past 50 years or more”, while developing the opening bars into the “richly Romantic main theme”. We read in the accompanying essay that Edmund Rubbra was an early admirer and, although not similar musically, Crawford’s craftsman-like approach obviously struck a chord with that illustrious listener. This is a disc that rewards repeated listening; those expecting fireworks and instant gratification may find those more easily elsewhere, but this music is more than worth your time and money and has both substance and longevity.

Neil Horner

see also review by Rob Barnett



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