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Nigel WESTLAKE (b. 1958)
Antarctica (1991)
David Pereira (cello); Louise Johnson (harp); Timothy Kain (guitar); Philippe Marc Anquetil (boy soprano); Christine Douglas (soprano); Geoffrey Collinson (horns); Paul Goodchild (trumpets); Orchestra; Carl Vine
Recorded: Rhinoceros Studio, Sydney, no date, published 1992
TALL POPPIES TP 012 [37:03]

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Antarctica directed by John Weiley and filmed in IMAX drew its global impact from impressive photography (some stills from the film are printed in the insert notes) and from Nigel Westlake’s very fine score. As I mentioned in a recent review (Timothy Kain – Mirrors of Fire on Tall Poppies TP 169), the composer reworked some of the music of his film score into a suite for guitar and orchestra written for John Williams, in much the same way as Vaughan Williams reworking some of the music for Scott of the Antarctic into his Seventh Symphony. Westlake’s well-crafted, slightly eclectic but effective music is quite different from that by Vaughan Williams, although he too uses wordless soprano and boy soprano voices. So, it is both interesting and rewarding to be able to listen to Westlake’s film score to realise how he approached his task when reworking some of the music for the concert hall. A film score is often made of relatively short cues that do not lend themselves to extended reworking all too easily. Actually, two cues from the film score have been recycled into the suite for guitar and orchestra almost as they stand in the film score (albeit slightly revised and expanded), viz. the atmospheric miniature tone poem Wooden ships and the delightful Scherzo Penguin play. The last place on earth [track 2] also provides much of the music heard in the Antarctica suite, and so do the final tracks [12 – Finale and 13 – Postlude] in the suite’s last movement. Westlake’s film score nevertheless includes several longer cues such as The last place on earth [track 2] and Meltponds/Dry valleys/The Ice Core [track 7] that are rather more developed and some of which also made its way into the suite. The film score, however, is well worth hearing on its own right because it includes a good deal of really fine music, in turn lyrical and brutal, serious and funny. The funniest track is, no doubt, Penguin circus [track 5], a delightful Scherzo mostly for percussion, complete with slide whistle and honking horns, and ending with that arch-cliché of circus music, i.e. a side drum roll followed by the "circus chord". There are also many more lyrical sections such as the already mentioned Wooden ships [track 9], Threnody [track 4] and Scott’s theme. Westlake also sees to it that some coherence is achieved by the use of some recurrent motives.

Westlake’s score is for fairly limited orchestral forces, strings, horns and trumpets (apparently recorded in multi-tracking), an important part for cello (I even think that the concert suite might have been for cello and orchestra rather than for guitar and orchestra), guitar, percussion and parts for wordless soprano and boy soprano (a bit à la Vaughan Williams although the music is quite different but equally effective). It also seems that some electronic devices may have been used (multi-tracking, etc.), but always tastefully. As such, Antarctica is as fine a film score as one may wish : superbly crafted, quite attractive and very accessible; and the performance by soloists and an ad hoc orchestra conducted by fellow-composer Carl Vine is excellent.

Hubert Culot

see also review by Neil Horner


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