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Bruce Cale: Orchestra Works / Thomas, Pereira, Et Al

Release Date: 01/02/2007 
Label:  Tall Poppies   Catalog #: 188   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bruce Cale
Performer:  Helen DonaldsonDavid PereiraLeonard Dommett
Conductor:  Max McBridePatrick ThomasDobbs Franks
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Queensland Symphony OrchestraTasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CALE Cello Concerto. 1 Valleys and Mountains Suite. 2 Violin Concerto 3 David Pereira (vc); 1 Helen Donaldson (sop); 1 Leonard Dommett (vn); 3 Max McBride, cond; 1 Dobbs Franks, cond; 2 Read more class="ARIAL12"> Patrick Thomas, cond; 3 Queensland SO; 1,3 Tasmanian SO 2 TALL POPPIES 188 (66:37)

Bruce Cale (b. 1939) was born in Leura, a town in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. He worked as a jazz bass-player for 30 years, leading a trio and later a jazz orchestra in his homeland. Living in the US during the 1970s, he performed alongside such jazz musicians as Zoot Sims and Phil Woods. At this time, he was commissioned to compose a piece for Frederick Dutton, then principal bassoonist of the Los Angeles PO. Cale became interested in writing more concert music and studied with George Russell, whom he considers his mentor in his switch to classical composition. Having given up performance entirely for composition in the 1980s, he continues to produce new works.

The three (or, more accurately, two and two thirds) works on this CD have been compiled from older recordings made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Cello Concerto, op. 65, is the most recent composition and recording, written for the present soloist. It is one continuous movement in which the cello part meanders through a tonally and texturally sophisticated landscape, framed by a vocal setting of a poem about music by Pat Cale (presumably the composer’s wife). Cale’s jazz antecedents are present in the quasi-improvisational form rather than in any noticeably swinging elements, although the piece does settle into something of a groove around the 20-minute mark. This extended section reminded me of the music of 1970s jazz composers like the Englishmen Neil Ardley and Mike Westbrook: similar in its loose structure and Lydian harmonies and in the way the solo line builds in the manner of a “controlled” improvisation. The cello part itself is idiomatic and well played by David Pereira in this vivid 1990 recording, and the soprano part is ravishingly sung by Helen Donaldson.

Cale’s Valleys and Mountains Suite is inspired by the natural beauty of the part of the world where he grew up. There is a nostalgic tang to the work, a calmness that suggests Vaughan Williams at his most pastoral, seen through the prism of Cale’s post-jazz harmonic palette. Once again, there are certain sections, such as in the second movement, “Kanimbla Valley,” where a solo instrument decorates a thematic line against a static background; Cale is clearly happiest when showcasing a soloist. The music evokes the breadth and indeed the mystery of the terrain in question—I know the Blue Mountains myself and they certainly come to the mind’s eye while listening to Cale’s orchestral depiction—but it is also true that the suite is predominantly slow until the sprightly final movement, with little variation in tone. Perhaps the Tasmanian SO’s performance (under expatriate American conductor Dobbs Franks) might have benefited from a bit more light and shade.

Lastly, in a recording from 1983, we have the outer movements only of Cale’s earlier Violin Concerto, again written for the soloist, the late Leonard Dommett. This, too, is easygoing music, attractive and atmospheric in the style of a superior film score. (The first movement is actually entitled “Mood.”) As with the concert music of John Williams, one enjoys the skill and, indeed, the beauty of the work, but a sense of logical structure, either through thematic development or juxtaposition, seems to be missing. The piece seems somewhat evanescent as a result, despite its lyrical outpourings. (The ending strikes me as abrupt, too: it just stops.)

The Cello Concerto has the strongest profile of these well-written works. Cale’s orchestration is felicitous throughout, especially his use of the flutes to lighten the texture. Bass lines are solid, predictably enough. The composer’s jazz background adds a distinctive flavor without being self-consciously populist. Performances and recordings are all fine, with the Cello Concerto the standout in both respects. All in all, a worthwhile, easy-listening release.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello, Op. 65 by Bruce Cale
Performer:  Helen Donaldson (Soprano), Helen Donaldson (Voice), David Pereira (Cello)
Conductor:  Max McBride,  Patrick Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Australia 
Date of Recording: 10/1990 
Venue:  Brisbane, Australia 
Length: 24 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: Australia (1988 - 1989). 
Concerto for Violin, Op. 43 by Bruce Cale
Performer:  Leonard Dommett (Violin)
Conductor:  Patrick Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; Australia 
Date of Recording: 10/1985 
Venue:  Brisbane, Australia 
Length: 19 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Valleys and Mountains Suite, Op. 64 by Bruce Cale
Conductor:  Dobbs Franks
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; Australia 
Date of Recording: 09/1989 
Venue:  Hobart, Australia 
Length: 22 Minutes 42 Secs. 

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