We have a set of four modern chamber compositions, two each by David Lumsdaine (b. 1931) and Nicola LeFanu (b, 1947) on the CD Mandala 3 (Metier 28565). They are well performed by the chamber ensemble Gemini, which is directed by Ian Mitchell.
The program begins with the somewhat whimsical LeFanu “Invisible Places, in 16 continuous sections” (1986) for clarinet and string quartet. Next follows a short “fire in leaf and grass” (1991) for soprano (Sarah Leonard) and clarinet (Ian Mitchell) by Lumsdaine. The mood is carried over to the more lengthy and involved LeFanu song cycle “Trio 2 – Song for Peter” (1983) for soprano, bass clarinet/clarinet and cello. It is an effectively moody piece in a modernist chromatic, advanced-harmonic zone.
Last but not least on the program is the forty-minute Lumsdaine work “Mandala 3” (1978) for chamber ensemble featuring Aleksander Szram on solo piano. It is an extension and flowering outward of Lumsdaine’s (1975) solo piano work “Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh.” Both are based on the movingly beautiful final chorus of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.”Mandala 3″ in the composer’s words is a “more extended structure which further explore[s] the harmony of Bach’s chorus in terms of style and layers of textures.” It is all divided into three parts, the first is a transcription of the chorus as a classical quintet, which sets the tone for what follows, a sonata continuously flowing out of part one, developing the music into something still related but other, then even more modernly other. Part two dissolves into the “Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh” piano section (i.e., Part three), an extended fantasia that centers on the piano rapture surrounded by the chamber ensemble that echoes, then states the chorus theme once again. Like Foss’s “Baroque Variations” the classic themes are recontextualized and stylistically refigured into later style zones. But Lumsdaine does it differently and originally.
It is an eerie, masterful work both with Bach both inside it as it were, and outside of it looking in. In the end it is neither quite out of the neo-classical Bach filtered zone nor quite sturdily situated as a modern commentary. It is both and it is a joy to hear.
“Mandala 3” makes this program very desirable; the other works give much contrasting interest. In all the album provides much pleasure and a good taste of what Lumsdaine and LeFanu have been doing. I am glad to have it to repeat the experience, probably many times.