American Record Guide

Australian-born composer David Lumsdaine (b 1931) studied in England in the 1950s, first with Matyas Seiber, then with Lennox Berkeley. In 1970 he accepted an appointment at Durham University in northeastern England, where he built an electro-acoustic studio. Later he shared a lectureship with his wife, composer Nicola LeFanu, at Kings College, London; and now he lives in New York. Lumsdaine writes conventional music, but he also deals with naturally occurring sound—as do visual artists who create works from found objects.

Lumsdaine has had a lifelong fascination with birds and their songs, so he has written numerous works based on recordings made in the wild. The two discs in Metier 28519 include five A ustralian Soundscapes , each with a picturesque title: ‘The Billabong at Sunset’, ‘Frogs at Night’, ‘Raven Cry’, ‘Serenade’, and best of all, ‘Hunting a Crested Bellbird for Dr Gilbert at Palm Creek’. Whether or not you think of these tracks as music, the “carefully edited assemblages” are vivid and intense, and they do create an atmosphere.

Then there is the music, often freely tonal, often quite abstract. Instrumental pieces include the little ‘Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek’ (1994), where recorder player John Turner makes remarkable bird sounds. In the seven-minute ‘Blue on Blue’ (1991), cellist Jonathan Price sounds alternately wistful and energetic. Peter Lawson is the pianist in Six Postcard Pieces (1994), a little collection of atonal miniatures, and in Cambewarra (1980), a meandering, rambling, quasi-improvisatory, 31-minute study where cragginess is occasionally softened by tonal sounds.

Soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers is heard in two works for soprano and recorder. ‘A Little Cantata’ (1996) is a four-minute setting of a Lumsdaine poem; and A Norfolk Songbook (1992) is an 18-minute, 10-song setting of Lumsdaine poems about military disruption of the natural beauty of Norfolk, England. The big vocal piece is the 24-minute Tree Telling of Orpheus (1990, poem by Denise Levertov), given an excellent performance by soprano Rogers with the chamber ensemble Gemini. Of all the works in the collection, this one best captures David Lumsdaine’s intertwined passions for music and nature.