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Nigel WESTLAKE (b.1958)
Invocations – concerto for bass clarinet and chamber orchestra (c.1993-95) [20:35] *
Antarctica – suite for guitar and orchestra (1991) [22:01] *
out of the blue … for string orchestra (c.1993-95) [10:23]
Nigel Westlake (bass clarinet)
Timothy Kain (guitar)
Alison Lazaroff-Somssich (obbligato violin) *
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. Ballroom, Government House, Hobart, March 1997
ABC CLASSICS 462 017-2 [52:59]


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 The German Romantics’ motto Frei aber Einsam might have been the creed for the slow movement with its expressive withdrawn quality.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 charged drama.

Antarctica – 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 better. 

The Australian 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.

Jonathan Woolf



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