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Rhapsodic Cello

Music by
Bruce Cale,
reviewed by

Tall Poppies    TP188

Bruce Cale orchestral works. © 2006 Tall Poppies Records

Bruce Cale (born 1939) is an Australian who was primarily a jazz bassist and band leader until at least 1987 and only began to compose in the mid 1970s, so although he is of the generation of Sculthorpe, Meale and Butterley his output is not at all comparable. Nevertheless, he has written much that is worth hearing.

This disc preserves -- just -- early performances of three major works of the 80s, two concertos and a programmatic orchestral suite. The 'just' refers to their state of preservation: they were all recorded for radio by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in 1990, 1989 and 1985 respectively, but all that remained of the recording sessions by 2005 were cassette tapes made for the composer at the end of each project. These have been carefully remastered for the CD but audio quality is uneven.

The Cello Concerto is almost one of a kind. Here is the opening:

Listen -- Bruce Cale: Cello Concerto
(track 1, 0:00-0:38) © 2006 Tall Poppies Records

No, that is neither a mistake on my part nor a technical glitch -- listen to the continuation:

Listen -- Bruce Cale: Cello Concerto
(track 1, 0:38-1:18) © 2006 Tall Poppies Records

Cale called it simply 'Cello Concerto' but Mozart or Respighi might have called it something like 'Scena for Soprano, Cello and Orchestra'. Google found me four more works (by Levitin, Landowski, Saariaho and Vacchi) for similar forces so it is not quite unique, but it is certainly unusual.

The mood is rhapsodic throughout and the structure is appropriately fluid -- it is marked 'one movement: adagio -- liberamente -- allegro moderato rubato'. Much of it is a dialogue between cello and orchestra, with the singer heard only in the opening adagio, in two more episodes in the first half of the work, and in the closing minute or two.

The soloist is David Pereira, one of the leading Australian cellists of his generation. He was Principal cello with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Australian Chamber Orchestra, and a soloist with all the major Australasian orchestras, before taking up the position of Senior Lecturer in cello at the Canberra School of Music in 1990. Cale keeps him centre-stage most of the time.

Listen -- Bruce Cale: Cello Concerto
(track 1, 15:50-17:05) © 2006 Tall Poppies Records

Valleys and Mountains was composed for a student orchestra but is performed here by the ABC's Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Conventional romantic pictorialism is evident in towering ramparts of brass and rippling meadows of strings and woodwinds but there are also moments of intriguingly individual harmony and orchestration.

Listen -- Bruce Cale: Kanimbla Valley (Valleys & Mountains)
(track 3, 0:00-0:58) © 2006 Tall Poppies Records

Cale found his style quickly but he did start very late, and the Violin Concerto is Op 43 to the Op 64 and 65 of the other two works. It also suffers most from the poor 'master' tape: we are given only two of the three movements, and the tonal quality of what we do hear is noticeably dull and harsh. It is good to have Valleys and Mountains and the Violin Concerto preserved and documented so that a new generation of performers may be inspired to take them up but these recordings do not encourage repeated listening.

The Cello Concerto is thus the only work I can unreservedly recommend as a listening experience in its present state. Here is its gorgeous epilogue:

Listen -- Bruce Cale: Cello Concerto
(track 1, 22:45-24:21) © 2006 Tall Poppies Records

Copyright © 27 November 2008 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews