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Nigel WESTLAKE (b. 1958)
Piano Trio (2003)a [20:57]
The Hinchinbrook Riffs (2003)b [8:06]
String Quartet No.2 (2005)c [23:03]
Kalabash (2004)d [7:29]
Piano Sonata (1997)e [15:15]
Macquarie Trio Australiaa; Craig Ogden (guitar)b; Goldner String Quartetc; Synergy Percussiond; Michael Kieran Harvey (piano)e
rec. Concert Hall, University of Newcastle, January 1999 (Piano Sonata); Newington College, January 2006 (Kalabash); Verbruggen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium, November 2003 (Piano Trio); The Top Studio, Sarsden, Oxfordshire, UK, May 2006 (The Hinchinbrook Riffs) and Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of NSW, October 2005 (String Quartet No.2)
TALL POPPIES TP 187 [75:09]

Although he may be best known for some highly successful film scores such as that for the IMAX film Antarctica (Tall Poppies TP012 - see review), Nigel Westlake has also composed a good deal of chamber and orchestral music. This release is in fact the sequel to Tall Poppies’ earlier disc devoted to his chamber music (TP047 that I have not heard so far), and includes some fairly recent pieces, the earliest dating from 1997.
The Piano Sonata was commissioned by Michael Kieran Harvey who gave the first performance at the 1998 Sydney Festival. It is a compact single movement piece falling into three contrasted sections (fast-slow-very fast). The outer sections are brilliantly toccata-like in character with much rhythmic and percussive writing, calling for considerable strength and agility, whereas the central section is a beautiful, lyrical outpouring.
The Hinchinbrook Riffs is a short work for guitar and digital delay, on which I commented when reviewing Tim Kain’s earlier recording (on TP 169 - see review). It is an attractive, fairly simple piece of music, in which digital delay is used to create subtle displacements of rhythm.
The Piano Trio, completed in 2003, is a substantial piece in three movements. The first opens in tranquillity: muted strings over flowing piano gestures. The music, however, gains some momentum alternating rhythmically alert and calmer sections before reverting briefly to the opening mood, thus preparing for the contemplative mood of the central movement. This is a beautiful reverie for violin and cello supported by a simple piano accompaniment building-up to a tenser climax before receding into tranquillity. The Trio ends with a lively, virtuosic and dance-like finale, with jazzy inflections. The music, however, tiptoes away lightly.
The title of Kalabash for percussion ensemble alludes to the African balofon, the forerunner of the modern marimba, made of wooden bars suspended above a collection of different-sized kalabash gourds. The music neither quotes nor borrows from African music. This is foot-stamping, hand-clapping and finger-snapping music of great fun; a real showcase for percussion.
The String Quartet No.2 is the most recent work here, composed in 2005. Again, it is a substantial work this time in four movements. The first opens with fragmented, almost disparate elements that at first clash against in a kaleidoscopic way, before the music eventually coalesces while gaining some considerable impetus to move towards its strongly assertive close. A short capricious interlude follows, bridging into the tranquil mood of the warmly melodic third movement. The music again reaches an intense climax before dying away peacefully. The fourth movement opens with a quasi-improvised introduction leading straight into the concluding fast section, again full of vitality and capricious, intricate rhythms.
All these pieces receive immaculate and committed readings by musicians who clearly believe in the music and relish every ounce of it. Very fine recorded sound too.
This generously filled disc will appeal to those who already know some of Westlake’s music, and who want to know more about it. On the other hand, his music is, I think, likely to convince “unbelievers” that contemporary music can also be attractive, beautiful and accessible. A lovely disc that I thoroughly enjoyed from first to last.
Hubert Culot

see also review by Jonathan Woolf




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