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www.tallpoppies.au.nu (sales@tallpoppies.au.nu)
UK distributors Seaford music (www.seaford-music.co.uk)

Nigel WESTLAKE (b. 1958)
Antarctica (the film music): Yearning for the continent; the last place on earth; penguin play; threnody; penguin circus; canyons of ice; meltponds/dry valleys/the ice core; Scott's theme; wooden ships; at the pole; Scott's theme; finale; postlude.
David Pereira, cello
Louise Johnson, harp
Timothy Kain, guitar
Phllippe Marc Antequil, boy soprano
Christine Douglas, solo soprano
Orchestra conducted by Carl Vine.
Recorded in Rhinoceros Studio, Sydney, Australia (date not given, disc released 1992)
TALL POPPIES TP012 [37.03]

Nigel Westlake is a talented contemporary Australian composer, with many discs on the superlative Tall Poppies label. I was particularly pleased to be sent this disc for review. It contains the very music, albeit in expanded, original form, with which I originally acquainted myself with Westlake, namely the stunning soundtrack to John Weiley's IMAX film about Antarctica. A superb suite (for guitar and orchestra) was extracted/adapted from it which was premiered, alongside several excellent works by Peter Sculthorpe, on John Williams' trailblazing Sony disc From Australia. It has proved no disappointment to hear its source material (and much more besides). Several sequences are instantly recognisable, including those for the penguins and the "wooden ships" of the original Antarctic explorers. The guitarist on this recording (Tim Kain) has previously collaborated with aforementioned Williams. He does more than justice to the music with his contribution here. Harpist Louise Johnson is also impressive (try Penguin Play for an example of both players' artistry). That said, all the musicians involved have produced a remarkable, cohesive whole, which works just as well as an independent listening experience as it no doubt does alongside the film. The film's director calls this "Music with a life of its own". This is quoted in the booklet which also contains a series of superb photographs from Antarctica.

The music itself is never inaccessible and manages to combine a yearning lyricism (e.g. Threnody) with a real sense of nature's power (e.g. The Last Place on Earth). The latter aspect is often enhanced, and here it exceeds the experience of the suite, by the addition of a vocal component. This does not necessarily humanise the music, rather it adds an extra, often powerfully poetic dimension. One section that does not quite seem to fit with the rest of the music, amusing as it is, is Penguin Circus. It sounds exactly as you might imagine and is, to these ears, slightly too stark a contrast to the profound pieces preceding and following it (Threnody and Canyons of Ice, respectively). I do, however, concede that this might not be the impression given when heard in the film.

The centrepiece of the disc is the seven minute travelogue of Meltponds/Dry Valleys/The Ice Core. Highly evocative it is too, with elements both beautiful and awesome, especially from around five minutes in, where wordless soprano and guitar combine to weave a truly magical spell. After the relative calm of Scott's Theme and Wooden Ships, At the Pole is a highly percussive fanfare-like piece. A reprise of Scott's Theme then leads us into a lyrical Finale, which builds to an energetic and optimistic conclusion. This fits well with Westlake's dedication of the music to "the future of Antarctica as a world park". A gentle postlude completes the work.

Antarctica is a place that has always fascinated me and would love to visit. The fact that this record, short though it is, reinvigorated and increased those feelings is a tribute to the vision of the composer and his ability to conjure up these wonderful places so effectively. As far as documentary soundtracks goes, this is as good as you can get. This is probably a masterpiece, although that might equally apply to his later follow-up collaboration with Weiley (The Edge), also to be reviewed here shortly.

Neil Horner



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