Sound Samples & Downloads
David LUMSDAINE (b.1931)
Soundscape I [4:44]
A Little Cantata - Tracey Chadwell in Memoriam (1996) [3:51]
Soundscape II [6:07]
Blue Upon Blue, for Solo Cello (1991) [7:24]
Soundscape III [3:56]
Six Postcard Pieces, for Piano (1994) [4:45]
Soundscape IV [5:22]
A Tree Telling of Orpheus (1990) [24:33]
Soundscape V [7:04]
Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek, for Solo Recorder (1994) [2:26]
A Norfolk Songbook, for Soprano and Recorder (1992) [18:10]
Cambewarra, for Piano (1980) [31:20]
Peter Lawson (piano); Jonathan Price (cello); John Turner (recorders); Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano); Gemini/Martyn Brabbins
rec. York University, July 2004; Soundscapes rec. near Lake Emu, New South Wales, 1984 (I-IV), Palm Creek, Northern Territory, 2000 (V). DDD
METIER MSV 28519 [60:29 + 59:21]
Australian-born David Lumsdaine's music is arguably less well-known
than that of either his wife, Nicola LeFanu, or his mother-in-law,
Elizabeth Maconchy. Whether or not that is how things should
be is not really answered by this rather curious new release,
a mixture of almost ephemeral snippets, more important works
and items that are not really music at all.
Anyone not aware that Lumsdaine is also a keen ornithologist
certainly will be after listening to this double CD set, which
features five of his six Soundscapes (the sixth from
1995 is mysteriously absent), all commissioned by the Australian
Broadcasting Commission. 'Soundscapes' here is a synonym for
outdoor tape-recording of wildlife noises. They are only music
in what might politely be called the 'post-modern' sense: as
the liner-notes put it. They are "in their own way compositions
in any case, since they are not simple, passive recordings,
but carefully-edited assemblages". To be fair to Lumsdaine,
he insists that in these recordings it is the birds who are
'composing' - but should they feature on a CD of his music?
After all, with modern technology, anyone really could
have done them. They also take up around a quarter of the overall
The Soundscapes' descriptive subtitles are: The Billabong
at Sunset; Frogs at Night; Raven Cry; Serenade;
and Hunting a Crested Bellbird for Dr Gilbert at Palm Creek.
Certainly there will be many who appreciate each smorgasbord
of natural sounds, but probably far fewer - bird-fanciers aside!
- willing or able to sit five times through five or six minutes
of relentless rainforest-level bizarre bird chatter or eerie
frog noises. These are not the gentle sounds of British pastoral
The Soundscapes link - or intrude upon, depending on
one's viewpoint - the more orthodox works, though even here,
Lumsdaine's music is not for the faint of heart. It is modal
and spartan, and also fragmentary - the Six Postcard Pieces
last only five minutes, and A Little Cantata, at less
than four minutes, is positively minuscule. Too brief in either
case to really have time to say anything worth repeating.
Wedged incongruously between two noisy Soundscapes, Blue
on Blue, for solo cello, is probably the most accessible
work on this release. In the notes, Lumsdaine's friend and fellow
composer and 'twitcher', Anthony Gilbert, describes it as a
"duet for soloist: a modal melody, almost a raga, against
the more percussive, pitch-unfocussed pizzicato commentary."
The first disc ends with A Tree Telling of Orpheus, a
dramatic monologue, commissioned for the occasion of Lumsdaine's
60th birthday by the ensemble Gemini, who perform it here with
Lesley-Jane Rogers. Twenty-five minutes long, this is very demanding
music for performers, particularly the soprano, but Rogers is
more than equal to it. It also asks a lot of the listener, but
effort and concentration should be repaid after a second and
CD 2 opens with the final Soundscape (mercifully), and
then Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek keeps the birdsong
theme going. It is a short and shrill piece for solo sopranino
recorder, imitative of Australian bird noises.
A Norfolk Songbook is a collection of ten settings of
Lumsdaine's own poems, based on his stays in East Anglia. Birds
again feature heavily in the poetry, which concerns itself both
with the natural environment of Norfolk and the bombing of Libya
in 1986, when the US military used the region as an airbase.
Neither the poetry nor the music will be everyone's cup of tea,
but the combination of clear soprano voice, other-worldly recorder
and Lumsdaine's ambiguous texts creates a potent effect, particularly
on repeated hearing.
Cambewarra, for solo piano, is half an hour long, and
substantial not only with regard to length. Gilbert describes
this work, in three continuous movements, as "an architectural
embodiment of shape, colour, space and charged stillness."
The sections are, as it were, Lumsdaine's responses to three
different views of the landscapes around Cambewarra (Smoky Mountain)
in Kangaroo Valley in southern Australia. This is challenging
music for the listener - think Boulez piano sonatas - but not
without its rewards. Peter Lawson makes it sound easy, which
it is anything but.
The sound recording is excellent, though the cellist's breathing
is rather audible in Blue on Blue. The booklet is glossy
and informative, with biographies, poem texts and interesting
and well-written notes by Gilbert. Overall, it is difficult
not to conclude that this would have been a better product if
it had dropped the Soundscapes and showcased more of
Lumsdaine's music. On the other hand there is still more than
a full CD's worth of his works here that any lover of contemporary
music should be familiar with.