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David LUMSDAINE (b. 1931)
Complete Music for Solo Piano

Kelly Ground (1966) [24:14]
Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh’ (1974) [19:23]
Cambewarra (1980) [31:02]
Six Postcard Pieces (1995) [4:33]
Mark Knoop (piano)
rec. Opera Workshop, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, 25, 27 August 2006
TALL POPPIES TP198 [79:42]
Experience Classicsonline

David Lumsdaine withdrew everything of his composed before 1964 when he completed his first acknowledged work Annotations of Auschwitz (1964 – soprano and ensemble). This was followed by Dum medium silentium (1965, rev. 1975 – mixed chorus), Easter Fresco (1966, rev. 1970 – soprano and four players) and Kelly Ground for piano; the latter completed in 1966 and first performed that year by Roger Smalley.

In the 1950s Lumsdaine contemplated composing an opera on Ned Kelly in collaboration with Peter Porter. This eventually came to nothing, possibly because opera as a musical genre was deemed out of fashion especially by composers who were rather attracted by the new musical trends of the time as was Lumsdaine. The idea, however, was not completely forgotten. Though it is not programmatic in any way, Kelly Ground obliquely alludes to some subliminal programme as each of the strophes makes clear, such as “Kelly’s return to Consciousness on the morning of his Execution”, “His view along the Ground to the foothills of the Wombat Ranger”, “A Nocturne on the Plain”, “A clamorous Aubade”, “An Aria for Kelly focusing simultaneously on Inside and Outside of the Cell” and “The Hanging”. This, however, must not be taken at face value for Kelly Ground is a purely abstract piece in which much has been predetermined beforehand. In it the composer attempted to achieve something that he had been aiming at in several of his now discarded works: rhythmic flexibility and fluidity within a tightly controlled working-out of the basic material. In this respect, I can best refer to Michael Hall’s thoroughly researched analysis in his book Between Two Worlds – The Music of David Lumsdaine (Arc Publications – 2003). As Michael Hooper rightly remarks in his excellent insert notes, this substantial work falls into roughly two cycles. The first (Strophes 1 to 5) is mostly virtuosic whereas the second is “still and contemplative”. The music certainly brings a number of composers to mind such as Boulez, Webern and Messiaen. The latter is also a presence because Lumsdaine weaves some birdsong into his own music, albeit in a much less systematic way than the French composer.

Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh’ alludes to the final chorus of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, the first notes of which open the piece. “The work is a meditation – on the religious level a meditation on the untimely death of Christ, on the personal level on the untimely death of Jannice, the wife of Peter Porter, for whom the work is a memorial” (Michael Hall, op.cit.). The three notes from Bach’s chorus permeate the entire work and are sometimes transformed into soft bells.

In the nineties, Lumsdaine produced five pieces sharing the title of “Soundscapes”. These were in fact recordings of birdsong made in different places in Australia. One of them was made in Cambewarra Mountain located some hundred kilometres South of Sydney. Cambewarra is heard here is a completely different piece of work although birdsong is clearly present but in a personal way. It differs from Messiaen in not aiming at imitation or transcription of birdsong as the French composer did in so many of his works. The music partly reflects what Lumsdaine achieved in his series of soundscapes, in that foreground may suddenly become background and vice versa. This creates some abrupt changes of perspective.

By comparison, Six Postcard Pieces is a set of tiny miniatures in which a maximum is achieved with a minimum of notes, the mark of a true master. As Lumsdaine humorously remarks, “by the time you’ve read the programme note, they’re finished…”.

David Lumsdaine’s piano music is certainly no easy stuff, but Mark Knoop navigates fearlessly and almost effortlessly through these exacting scores. One forgets about all the intricate working-out behind the music and its formal and technical complexity and is eventually impressed by the music’s sheer expressive strength and energy.

Hubert Culot




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