A mandala (Sanskrit, circle) is a ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe, and the sleeve of the CD bears a modern interpretation of this. The sleeve notes indicate that it’s about big topics: life, death and the other thing, as Douglas Adams wrote.
Lumsdaine and LeFanu clearly like the imagery (mandalas and other imagery created for people who could not read but needed to understand concepts) and while they might be talking about the literal universe, the music circles a more central theme, whether it’s a clarinet linking up discrete pieces of music in the opening track or questioning the centre of the music in the title track.
Although the album celebrates Lumsdaine’s 85th and LeFanu’s 70th (on 28th April), the work is recorded for the first time. It doesn’t sound like the work of veterans, rather the work of rebellious youngsters.
It is “modern” so might not be to the taste of people who just want a nice bit of Mozart but then again, it’s not harsh. Listening on headphones is the best way to appreciate its subtleties — silence plays a large part — and there are some gentle, even beautiful moments.
Opener Invisible Places is written for clarinet and string quartet, inspired by the Italian Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. The book explores imagination through the descriptions of cities by Polo, who is talking to Kublai Khan. The book consists of brief poems describing 55 fictitious cities to prove the expanse of Khan’s empire, but which are all just descriptions of one city, Polo’s Venice. LeFanu writes in
the sleeve notes that the book showed her that she could create a continuous narrative through many tiny, discontinuous ideas. This piece is thus divided into 16 movements, played fairly continually on strings, with the clarinet joining them up.
Lumsdaine’s Fire In Leaf And Grass is two minutes long and features Sarah Leonard (soprano) and clarinet. Based on a poem, it’s almost a folk song.
LeFanu’s Trio 2: Song for Peter is set to powerful words by poets, including Emily Dickinson, Anton Chekhov and Ted Hughes. It’s about life and death, so it’s bleak, though there is beauty.
The closing piece is the title track, Mandala 3, composed for piano, flute, clarinet, viola, cello and Chinese Gong, which gets bashed several times. The opening section is a chorale, and quite traditional in approach.
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