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Nicola LEFANU (b. 1947)
String Quartet No.2 (1996)
Concertino for Clarinet and Strings (1986, rev. 1997)a
Canción de la luna (1994)b
Catena (1999)
Fiona Cross (clarinet)a; Nicholas Clapton (counter-tenor)b
Goldberg Ensemble/Malcolm Layfield
Recorded: Sir John Lyons Concert Hall, University of York; July 2003
NAXOS 8.557389 [62:03]


Although some of it has been recorded from time to time LeFanuís music is still under-represented in the current catalogue. Her large-scale orchestral works such as Farne (1980), The Hidden Landscape (1973), Columbia Falls (1975) and Wind among the Pines (1987), still await their first commercial recording. Some may remember an earlier Chandos LP (ABR 1017) that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been re-issued in CD format. Among the existing recordings, I would like to mention two vocal works for soprano and piano (I Am Bread and A Penny for a Song) on BMS 420/421 CD, The Old Woman of Beare on Lorelt LNT 101 and Trio I on Capstone CPS-8640, all of them currently available.

The present release is the first all LeFanu CD, which makes it the more welcome. With the exception of the Clarinet Concertino, all pieces here date from the late 1990s. The concertino is described by the composer as "elusive, understated and suggestive". It comprises sixteen brief movements played without a break creating "a continuous narrative through many tiny, discontinuous ideas". Fragments constantly re-appear with variations throughout the whole work. That the clarinet is more of a partner than an outsider betrays the origin of the Concertino for Clarinet and String Orchestra, actually a re-working of her slightly earlier clarinet quintet Invisible Places, itself completed in 1986.

Canción de la luna for counter-tenor and string quartet is a by-product of LeFanuís opera Blood Wedding after Lorca. This was first staged in 1992. The part of the Moon was then sung by Nicholas Clapton, for whom Canción de la luna, setting the whole of Lorcaís speech for the Moon in Spanish, was composed in 1994. LeFanuís setting follows the implications of Lorcaís at times surreal text in all its variety. As might be expected, this is more of a scena for voice and instruments than a song. In it the instruments add much to the often rather strange atmosphere suggested by Lorcaís words.

LeFanuís concise, though substantial String Quartet No.2, dedicated to the memory of her parents William LeFanu and Elizabeth Maconchy, is a beautifully moving, though not always peaceful piece of music. It is conceived as a musical equivalent to a sonnet in which "points of unison act like rhymes". These points of unison also help structural cohesion and act as bridges and anchors on which the music briefly pauses. This magnificent piece is one of the finest in this selection.

Catena for eleven solo strings was composed in 1999. As with several other works by LeFanu, it was inspired by non-musical stimuli, in this case by the sight of the Pyrenees as seen from her studio, a "seemingly unchanging view altering with every shift of light". The resulting music is not unlike that of the Clarinet Concertino, in that the whole piece may be experienced as a set of metamorphoses, in which several structural elements are present, ever changing and yet the same. This work displays a remarkable flair for effective and imaginative string textures. Catena is a really beautiful and substantial piece of music that deserves wider exposure. This and the Second String Quartet are the real gems here.

Fine works in excellent performances, warmly recorded and all at Naxosís bargain price. One could hardly want a better introduction to LeFanuís music. She is a most distinguished composer who has things to say and who knows how to say them in the best possible musical terms.

Hubert Culot

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