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Nigel WESTLAKE (b.1958)
Piano Trio (2003) [20:57]
The Hinchinbrook Riffs (2003) [8;06]
String Quartet No.2 (2005) [23:03]
Kalabash (2004) [7:29]
Piano Sonata (1997) [15:15]
Macquarie Trio Australia
Craig Ogden (guitar)
Goldner String Quartet
Synergy Percussion
Michael Kieran Harvey (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, University of Newcastle, January 1999 (Piano Sonata); Newington College, January 2006 (Kalabash); Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium, November 2003 (Piano Trio); The Top Studio, Sarsden, Oxfordshire, UK, May 2006 (The Hinchinbrook Riffs); Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of NSW, October 2005 (String Quartet No. 2)
TALL POPPIES TP187 [75:09]


Nigel Westlake spreads his net widely. Originally a clarinettist he studied composition in Amsterdam before returning to his native Australia. There he was a member of the Australia Ensemble, later joining John Williams’s group Attaca for which he also wrote. He has also written film scores. The Imax film Antarctica is one, and you will certainly know him from his scores for both Babe films.

His concert work is full of energy and colour. The Piano Trio of 2003 has impressionist hues alongside the more aggressively animated sonorities. The crepuscular second movement is especially diverting with its dialogue between the strings underpinned by the insistent piano. The finale has a rather jaunty, jazzy outlook maybe leavened by a touch of John Adams. I was taken by Westlake’s use of the cello as an ersatz jazz-propulsive double bass.

The riffs of The Hinchinbrook Riffs, the work that gives the disc its title, are digitally copied with a delay and repeated approximately half a second later. This creates wave-like patterns, which increase in seductive pleasure, not least the more absorbing jazzy ones. The guitar is the perfect medium for the caressing delicacy and mesmeric quality of the writing. The booklet photograph by the way shows Hinchinbrook Island in all its glory.

The most recent of the works is the String Quartet of 2005 and it’s also the longest. There are hints of a kind of polyrhythmic minimalism here but the percussive, patterned drive takes it far away from any sense of repetitious accumulation of themes. There’s a long rather melancholic first movement viola solo over pizzicati that is affecting. The grave solo over pizzicato is a feature of the third movement as well. There’s something excitingly Janáček and Bartók-like about the finale. A Folk-improvisatory lilt combines with pizzicato drama and a sense of fantasy and colour. This is wonderful stuff, rich in élan and a sense of the string quartet lineage. In contrast Westlake draws on West African music for the percussion piece Kalabash. Here his nod toward boppish jazz licks broadens the range of influence; this is a piece full of circling patterns and big dynamics and sonorities, perfect for percussion ensembles worldwide.

Finally there is the 1997 Piano Sonata, a one movement, dynamic and driving piece. It summons up but doesn’t quite embrace a kind of hyperactive boogie but its heart is the clearly defined slow central section – spare and lyrical by turn and a movement that shows how adept Westlake is at spinning real melody. The finale is a driving intoxicating workout.

This is an altogether diverting and exciting showcase for Westlake’s abundant talents. His dedicatees and performers alike play with uninhibited brilliance and the recordings are splendid.

Jonathan Woolf


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