David LUMSDAINE(b.1931) White Dawn- songs and soundscapes 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: near Lake Emu, New
South Wales, 1984 (I-IV), Palm Creek, Northern Territory, 2000 (V).
METIER MSV28519 [60:29 + 59:21]
‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ or something
like that, and in the case of David Lumsdaine born in Sydney
eighty years ago, long resident in England and married to composer
Nicola Lefanu it is certainly so. These discs sum up Australia
and its culture superbly well and he has had the idea of linking
what he calls ‘Soundscapes’ - there are six of these
in all, with some songs and instrumental works which reflect
on or are an echo of the natural world.
For example the opening track of birdsongs and crickets leads
us into the fleeting A Little Cantata written
in memory of Tracey Chadwell that wonderful soprano and supporter
of contemporary music whose sudden death in 1996 deprived us
all of what might have been many more years of new music making.
Lesley-Jane Rogers is a fine substitute but I’m not convinced
that in her very high register the words are really distinct.
Talking of which, Lumsdaine himself, to make sure that he has
maintained the atmosphere of the soundscape, has written them.
He favours here and elsewhere on the CD short, aphoristic poems
from which he can capture a single mood and then move on, dividing
the poetry by brief instrumental sections which themselves are,
in a way, not unlike the bird calls or frog noises in the Soundscapes
which precede and follow them. It’s wonderful how the
frogs (Soundscape II) are followed by a gorgeous piece
for solo cello, Blue upon Blue, so wistful and
shimmering. The dawn chorus, which constitutes Soundscape
III with all sorts of exotics, segues into the more brittle
sound of the six bagatelles - very much Beethoven-inspired apparently
- which constitute the Six Postcards. What I love about
these pieces is how they make their mark, say what they have
to say and then move on.
Don’t get thinking that the Soundscapes are just
Lumsdaine going around with his tape recorder on a spare afternoon;
no, the composer talks of the counterpoint of frog noises and
bird calls, a counterpoint heard in the music. Some amazing
birdcalls are offered. In Soundscape IV
we hear the extraordinary Pied Butcherbird with its tune, beginning
with a tri-tone, you can easily write on manuscript and after
it the lengthy song-cycle A Tree telling of
Orpheus. This uses a beautiful text by Denise Levertov
(died 1997) who, although born in England and who lived in the
USA seems a perfect poet for an Australian with gift-lines like
‘He sang our sun-dried roots back into the earth/watered
them: all-night rain of music so quiet’. Lumsdaine sets
it mostly as a Scherzando, with a few very still and eerie passages,
with a generally modal tonality in triple or in compound time
and with unpredictable dancing rhythms. The whole performance
with Gemini and the pure-voiced Lesley-Jane Rogers is an absolute
delight and worth the cost of CD on it own.
CD 2 starts with Lumsdaine’s attempt to record
the ‘Crested bellbirds’ in a site in central Australia.
They sing a single note but as an equal duple followed by a
triplet rhythm, each bird choosing a differing pitch. As he
says, it becomes the most haunting of the five Soundscapes and
flows into an extraordinary piece for sopranino recorder where
for a moment you cannot tell where the soundscape ended and
where John Turner’s magical playing begins. Metamorphosis
at Mullet Creek is seemingly
a metamorphosis of the birdcalls just heard. I had the weird
pleasure of hearing these tracks on headphones outside where
the sounds of Australia’s birds mingled with those of
an English Spring - quite bizarre. But hearing these far-off
birds has whetted my appetite as a keen ornithologist to visit
Australia myself and see these amazing singers live.
There follows another demanding and challenging song-cycle and
finally a large-scale piano work, which builds on previous ideas.
The composer Anthony Gilbert admits, in his witty booklet notes,
to visiting Lumsdaine at his North Norfolk home in 1972. This
area was to prove to be another inspirational natural environment
for the cycle A Norfolk Songbook, a sequence of
ten poems by the composer set with simply a recorder - John
Turner again moving between at least three. He acts as a perfect
duettist evoking bird sounds mentioned such as oyster-catchers,
gulls and crossbills. The longer settings bookend eight interior
aphoristic poems such as Hedgerow with its lines ‘Yellowhammer
/ Yellowhammer / Yellowhammer / passing tractor / dust.’
In a sense Australia moves to East Anglia - just briefly.
Written in a remote area of Australia known as Kangaroo Valley
Cambewarra is named after a nearby mountain.
To quote the notes it presents ‘three parallel visions
of the same points approaching sunrise’, rather like Claude
Monet as his paintings, say, of Rheims Cathedral in differing
lights. There are three attached movements although the outer
ones, both of eleven minutes duration, can be played separately.
Almost outdoing Messiaen, birdsong totally dominates especially
in the middle, scherzo-like movement, but there is a reminder
of a rough, harsher landscape in the ‘chorale’ type
chordal writing and in some of the abrasive piano textures elsewhere.
Modality, coupled with chromaticisms found in other works like
the Norfolk Songbook is lost in this brittle, sun-drenched
but beautiful soundscape. Yes, a soundscape but five years before
the first recorded one heard on this CD. In addition Peter Lawson
is quite brilliant and utterly convincing in this vivid and
The excellent booklet has biographies and texts. With this double
CD, we can say “Happy birthday, David Lumsdaine”,
a composer with much that is original to say. I for one will
never forget the effect that his seemingly forgotten orchestral
work Hagoromo had on me at the Proms as long ago as 1980.
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