BBC Music Magazine

As the warm introductory note from musical director Ian Mitchell suggests, this disc stems from friendships both music and personal; between composers David Lumsdaine and Nicola LeFanu, and chamber ensemble Gemini. Indeed, listening to the disc is something like being party to an intimate, intelligent and far-ranging conversation among old friends.

British composer Nicola LeFanu is renowned for works of imaginative beauty, often drawing on diverse extra-musical prompts (previous pieces explore the Black Death, Edo Japan and the Arizona desert). LeFanu’s Trio 2: Song for Peter (1983) for soprano, clarinet and piano is by turns fierce and meditative, pondering ideas of mortality through texts by Emily Dickinson, Checkhov, Ted Hughes and Sara Teasdale, and performed here with particular poise and fire by soprano Sarah Leonard. Invisible Places (1986) for string quartet and clarinet takes Italo Calvino’s beguiling Invisible Cities as its starting point, capturing the book’s seamless shifts between micro- and macrocosm in the score’s inventive textural contrasts.

The central work of the disc is Australian David Lumsdaine’s Mandala 3 (1978) for chamber ensemble, which proves a gloriously strange and moving piece. A ‘meditation’ on the final chorus of the St. Matthew Passion, the work weaves bold new lines around transcribed excerpts of Bach’s score to create an affecting and mysterious piece aptly summed up by Lumsdaine: ‘It came from nowhere, and it continues to take me everywhere.’ Some shaky intonation emerges in the unadorned passages of Bach, but this is otherwise a fine performance to complete this intriguing and enlightening disc.
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—Kate Wakeling