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Nigel WESTLAKE (b. 1958)
Hinchinbrook Riffs (2003) [8:30]
Jovian Moons (2001, rev. 2002) [16:09]
Songs from the Forest (1994) [6:59]
Flying Fish (2003) [4:07]
Shadow Dances (2000, rev. 2004) [12:31]
Antarctica – Suite (1992) [23:45]
Slava Grigoryan (guitar) (all)
Michael Kieran Harvey (piano) (Moons); Leonard Grigoryan (guitar) (Forest); Joel Westlake (double bass) (Forest); Saffire Guitar Quartet (Fish)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Nigel Westlake (Dances, Antarctica)
rec. Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, Melbourne, May 2003 (Moons) and July 2004 (Dances, Antarctica); Avalon Studio, November 2003 (Forest); Jumpstart Studio, Brisbane, June 2004 (Fish) and Jeremy Alsop’s Studio, May 2006 (Riffs)
ABC CLASSICS 476 5744 [72:01]



Westlake is a versatile musician with an early background in rock and jazz. He trained as a clarinettist as well as a composer and is equally at ease when writing for movies and the concert hall. He developed a real liking for the guitar under the influence of Frank Zappa and through being in regular contact with some top-rank guitarists such as John Williams, Timothy Kain, Karin Schaupp, the Grigoryan brothers, Craig Ogden and the Saffire Guitar Quartet, of which karin Schaupp and Slava Grigoryan are members.
 
Hinchinbrook Riffs (2003 – guitar and digital delay) and the suite Antarctica (1992 – guitar and orchestra) are probably among his best-known works, at least going by the number of commercial recordings. Antarctica has been recorded by John Williams, Timothy Kain and now Slava Grigoryan, whereas Hinchinbrook Riffs has been recorded by Kain, Ogden and now again by Grigoryan. The suite Antarctica actually reworks some material from the score written for the eponymous IMAX film. This is a lovely score with much colourful and readily accessible music; and its popularity is undoubtedly well deserved. There are many fine moments, of which the miniature tone poem Wooden Ships [track 10] and the delightful Scherzo-like Penguin Ballet [track 11] may be singled-out. As I remarked in earlier reviews, Hinchinbrook Riffs is a very nice work, in which digital delay is discreetly used throughout as a way to enlarge the guitar’s sound palette. The results are highly effective.
 
The other works, new to me, are scored for different instrumental combinations. The earliest one Songs from the Forest is for two guitars and double bass. This is a short, dance-like, jazzy piece replete with what I have once termed Westlake’s finger-snapping, foot-stamping music; a most attractive work for a rather unusual instrumental group. This performance is almost a family affair since it is played with zest and obvious enjoyment by the Grigoryan brothers and by the composer’s son Joel.
 
Jovian Moons for guitar and piano is an altogether more ambitious and substantial work in four movements (Ganymede, Europa, Callisto and Io). Each evokes albeit without blunt description, the four moons of Jupiter, that became better-known after the Galileo and Voyager missions. The music and the instrumentation perfectly suggest vast, empty spaces, while still allowing for contrast and variety. I do not know many duos for guitar and piano, but this one works remarkably well.
 
Shadow Dances, completed in 2000 and revised in 2004, is scored for guitar and orchestra. It is a single-movement fantasy. It is somewhat more dissonant and ambiguous in its first part: up to a cadenza that leads into the dance section proper. It is replete with Westlake fingerprints.
 
Flying Fish is a movement from the suite Six Fishes for guitar quartet, and is – appropriately   enough – a lively, bouncing Scherzo. Judging from this, I hope that the Saffire quartet will record it complete some day, possibly with other works by Westlake.
 
As mentioned earlier, there is much variety and invention in Westlake’s guitar music, which is superbly and most idiomatically written for the instrument, be it alone or accompanied. Moreover, Westlake’s inexhaustible melodic fund and rhythmic verve make his music particularly accessible and enjoyable. All the performances here are simply splendid, and the composer conducts vital, lively performances of the orchestral scores. This is a self-commending release for all Westlake fans and others will find much to enjoy here too, guitar buffs or not.
 
Hubert Culot
 



 


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