At last! That must be the reaction expressed by all those supporters of David Lumsdaine’s music. Thanks to the indefatigible pushing and prodding by recorder maestro John Turner over eight years or so, this double CD has eventually seen the light of day and, like a rare flower, at last blossomed into being, just when we had all but forgotten about the project. That project has certainly been worth the long and frustrating lacuna.
The set showcases three vocal works, one of whom constitutes a major piece in Lumsdaine’s oeuvre (A Tree Telling of Orpheus), as does the large-scale piano work Cambewarra, plus three shorter instrumental pieces (Blue upon Blue, Six Postcard Pieces and Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek). A recurring ‘refrain’ throughout the two CDs are five of Lumsdaine’s Australian Soundscapes, the most immediate of which is the fourth, Serenade, with its aural snapshots of the Pied Butcherbird.
The whole selection has been artfully and sympathetically curated by Lumsdaine’s closest colleague and friend, Anthony Gilbert. In addition, Gilbert provides a lucid overview of Lumsdaine’s output and musical development. The three eloquent songs of A Little Cantata (Tracey Chadwell in memoriam) appear to synthesize elements of both haiku and bagatelle together in just under four minutes. Every note is perfectly placed and none wasted. Blue upon Blue, a two-part invention for solo cello, consists of a modal melody that interacts with a pizzicato ‘ commentary’; again, this is beautifully balanced and integrated, illuminating a haiku by Selcho.
Beethoven’s bagatelles, Webernian brevity and Stravinskian magpie-like borrowings are all alluded to in the Six Postcard Pieces, whose gestures are all very succinct and tellingly made. A Tree telling of Orpheus is strongly modal, its text by Denise Levertov (not printed in full, incidentally) always moving forward in a setting that is lithe, rhythmic and dancing. At limes, it seems Tippettian in its celebratory sensuousness. A Norfolk Songbook sets ten of the composer’s own nature poems and, for this writer’s pair of ears, works most effectively in the briefer songs – cf. ‘Hare, Hedgerow’ and ‘Gulls jostling’.
Perhaps most striking of all the works recorded here is Lumsdaine’s large-scale celebration of part of his home territory, Cambewarra. An epiphany in three movements, this taut yet expansive piece, with its very clear harmonic world, almost returns us to the sound-world of his two previous piano works, Kelly Ground and Ruhe sanste, sanste ruh.
Common to all of these pieces is the immediacy of the local, momentary gesture which is always allied to a highly-evolved structural awareness, at both the micro as well as the macro level. It would be invidious to single out particular performances; suffice to say, all the participants interpret this music with consummate skill and devotion to detail. In David Lumsdaine’s richly-variegated oeuvre, Nature and Art have become as one. If we listen sufficiently deeply, we may aspire to become, in T.S. Eliot’s phrase, ‘the music / While the music lasts’.
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