Klassisk

While there are a number of discs featuring father and son composers (JS and KPE Bach, the Hameriks, Igor and Soulima Stravinsky, even Wagner and his son, Siegfried), those of husband and wife are much rarer, perhaps because the wives, like Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler, tended to cease composition to tend to their dominant and over-demanding husbands. Nicola Lefanu (b1947)—the daughter of the great Elizabeth Maconchy—is the wife of the Australian-born David Lumsdaine (b1931) and theirs is a rarer still relationship, a partnership with each free to pursue their own artistic goals in total freedom but with mutual support.

Lefanu’s Invisible Places (1986) is a remarkable and succinct clarinet quintet (1986), constructed almost like a set of variations in sixteen tiny movements, only one of which—the last—exceeds two minutes in length. It is not a variation set, however, but a unified suite partly inspired by Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’. The movements are strongly contrasted, sometimes with Ian Mitchell’s clarinet integrated with the string quartet, in others pursuing separate courses, like counterpoints in a larger musical discourse. Recorded as far back as 1995 but only issued (or reissued) last year by Metier, Mitchell is a splendid soloist, ably supported by the string players from the Gemini ensemble.

The remaining works were all recorded in 2015. Trio II: Song for Peter (1983) has a more personal inspiration, having been composed following the birth of Lefanu and Lumsdaine’s son, Peter. Written in one large span (a couple of minutes longer than the quintet), it is a kaleidoscopically varied work for the three players, soprano, clarinettist and cellist, a real trio where the clarinet and cello do not merely accompany the soprano but interact with her as equals. The text, assembled from several different writers, is no mere celebration of the birth, but rather a meditation on “time and mortality”. There is raw emotion here, especially in the singer’s part, but joy and delight, too. Trio II (Trio I is scored for flute doubling piccolo, percussion and cello and dates from 1980) is not easy music, perhaps, but—in such a wonderful account by Sarah Leonard, Mitchell again and Sophie Harris—rewards familiarity.

Lumsdaine’s Fire in Leaf and Grass (1991) is brief setting of words by Denise Levertov, where the for soprano & clarinet lines, beautifully rendered by Leonard and Mitchell, are at times completely independent.

The major work, however, is Mandala 3 (1978)—to an extent a reworking and expansion of the 1975 piano suite, Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh’—is a triptych based on the final chorus of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. It opens with an arrangement of the chorus and then circles away from and back to Bach in ever-widening orbits. At times also the piano suite hoves in and out of view, giving Mandala 3 the feel of a chamber piano concerto. The musical treatment ranges far and wide, reflecting Lumsdaine’s interest in the music of the Far East (less exotic, perhaps, to an Australian than to a European) but his style is unified, the music integrated by the Bach chorus and the effect haunting. This is a work that stays long in the memory.

Fine performances throughout by the marvellous group Gemini and the various soloists.

—Guy Rickards