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.
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.
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.
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.
see also review by Rob Barnett