Tall Poppies


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Bruce Cale

Orchestral Works

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

Tall Poppies is delighted to present this CD of Australian orchestral works that might very well have slipped from view forever but for the archives of its composer, Bruce Cale. He has retained high quality copies of these works since their performances, and these recordings have been mastered to create this first release of Cale’s excellent compositions.
That they sound so well is also a tribute to the original ABC engineers.

Bruce Cale is possibly best known in Australia as a brilliant jazz bassist who has worked with all of Australia’s jazz luminaries. His work with the Bruce Cale Quartet represented one of the peaks of Australian jazz performance and is remembered in an archival recording released by Tall Poppies (TP175) last year to great acclaim. Cale is also a composer with a wide-ranging oeuvre who studied with George Russell in the US in 1981. Russell says of Cale:
“Bruce Cale is a marvellously imaginative, compelling musician. I have followed his work over several decades, and  have observed with pleasure his evolution.  Informed by the great nature of his native Australia, his compositions are lyrical and elegant. His use of the harmonic palette is uniquely his own, and draws on his early training as a jazz musician.  He is unafraid of beauty; his work is thrilling in its complexity and  scope. If I have had any affect on Mr. Cale’s work, I am humbled. He has become a distinguished composer of his generation, and I look forward to his continued contributions.”
George Russell May 2006

Music by Bruce Cale
Cello Concerto, op. 65 David Pereira - cello
Helen Donaldson - soprano
Queensland Symphony Orchestra;
Max McBride - conductor
Valleys & Mountains Suite, op. 64Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Dobbs Franks - conductor
Violin Concerto, op. 43Leonard Dommett - violin
Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Patrick Thomas - conductor


Bruce Ca!e returned to Australia in the 1970s to concentrate on composing, after a career as a jazz bassist in the UK and USA. Like many jazz composers who write for orchestra, Cale’s music emphasises rhythm and orchestral colour. The Violin Concerto is the earliest work on the CD. Here the violinist leads the musical direction rather than being a solo protagonist. Dommett plays with a full and lyrical tone. The cello concerto is written with more assurance. with many more demanding solos. Perera’s ability to tell a story without over-romanticising and his impressive virtuosity confirm him as one of Australia’s best cellists. The Suite is a very effective piece, easy to listen to but also texturally interesting (Why is it not performed more often?) All credit to the engineers who remastered the CD from the composer’s personal reel-to-reel tapes. The CDs and sheet music are available from the Australian Music Centre.

Susan Pierotti
Stringendo October 2011

Bruce Cale Orchestral Works showcases three pieces, his Cello Concerto, op. 65; Valleys & Mountains Suite. op. 64; and Violin Concerto, op.43. Though recorded years apart (l990, 1989. and 1985, respectively, there is a very good consistency of sound among the pieces, which speaks volumes to craftsmanship of both the originall reel-to-reel tapc recordings by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the mastering engineer, Don Bartley.

Cale’s writing is tonal and romantic, drawing, I suspect, from influences (panicularly early 20th Century) such as Barber, Bloch, Delius, Stravinsky, Debussy and perhaps even film music. Generally lush, with beautiful scoring, he employs some very appealing pairings of instruments, particularly woodwinds. The Cello Concerto (which also features voice) is a good representation of his scoring. He creates wonderful textures, for example in the first movement, at times there is a space or openness – bright like a house with a lot of windows – and the cello, voice and orchestra all have long, soaring melodic lines. The first movement of the Violin Concerto has phrases tumbling out, unfolding one after the other, and changing moods like rapidly shifting weather patterns, but always with his gorgeous scoring. Both concerti are enjoyahle to listen to, with equal interest in the solo and ensemble passages. These two recordings are a very small. but hugely impressive sample of Bruce Cale's creative oeuvre, give these and other offerings by this artist a listen.
Chris Kosky
International Society of Bassists, vol 32, no 2

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 thirty 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. It was at this time he was commissioned to compose a piece for Frederick Dutton, then principal bassoonist of the LAPO. Cale became interested in writing further concert music and studied with George Russell, whom he considers his mentor in his switch to classical composition. He gave up performance entirely for composition in the 80s and 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. In one continuous movement, 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 70s 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 (as is the soprano part: ravishingly sung by Helen Donaldson) in this vivid 1990 recording.

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, as 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 above soloist, the late Leonard Dommett. Again, this 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 issue.
Phillip Scott
Fanfare December 2008

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.… 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.… 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.… 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.…
© November 2008 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia

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