Nigel Westlake is
a clarinettist but even so not many composer-executants put
themselves on the line whilst wielding the bass clarinet as
Westlake does in Invocations. This is a constantly changing,
ever-colourful work, long on prismic patterns amidst some angular
Bergian moments. Westlake, being Westlake, there are so back-beaty
moments too in the second of the four movements, lightly bluesy
as well – a bent glissando signals the widening of the palette.
So indeed does the rather coolly aloof solo violin line. The
German Romantics’ motto Frei aber Einsam might have been
the creed for the slow movement with its expressive withdrawn
quality. And the finale wraps it all up with some rhythmically
suite for guitar and orchestra is a slightly earlier work.
It began as a film score (an IMAX presentation) but this is
a reworking and includes material not utilised in the film score.
Rather than a Vaughan Williams-inspired affair Westlake is precise
in his aural and visual reference points. Short motifs, jagged
and abrasive – splendidly suggested by brief cymbal “cracks”-
are added to the guitar’s more amiable patterns. The Wooden
Ships, the second movement, carries with it a gentle romance,
full of rich lyricism though its B section bears a more ominous
and discordant charge. The Penguin Ballet functions as
a kind of scherzo – graceful underwater but surprisingly gruff
and unsteady on land. The Ice Core is the finale. Westlake
manages to conjure up ice floe and ice cracks with brilliant
precision – yet this kind of writing is never crass or obvious.
He blends and fuses colours with impressionist security and
deploys sharp sounds as defiantly as any Vorticist.
Finally there is
the (lower-case) out of the blue for string orchestra.
This was written at a difficult time for the composer following
a car crash. It certainly does evoke blues in the central, slow
section but the spareness of writing is the thing that most
strikes one. It’s also minimalist in its control of dynamics.
Elsewhere though there’s plenty of rhythmically propulsive animation
and a sense that corners have been turned and all is for the
Composer Series notches up another success here. Full marks
to the resident band, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra here
under David Porcelijn, for being such convincing advocates for
so much good contemporary Australian writing.