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White Dawn - Music By David Lumsdaine

Release Date: 08/09/2011 
Label:  Metier   Catalog #: 28519  
Composer:  David Lumsdaine
Performer:  Lesley-Jane RogersJonathan PricePeter LawsonJohn Turner
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gemini
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A lesson in musical possibility and artistic skill from a composer of rare sonic vision.


LUMSDAINE Australian Soundscapes. Tracy Chadwell, In Memoriam. 1,2,3 Blue upon Blue. 4 6 Postcard Pieces. 3 A Tree Telling of Orpheus. 1,5 Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek. Read more class="SUPER12">2 A Norfolk Songbook. 1,2 Cambewarra 3 1 Lesley-Jane Rogers (sop); 2 John Turner (rcr); 3 Peter Lawson (pn); 4 Jonathan Price (vc); 5 Martyn Brabbins, cond; Gemini MÉTIER MSV 28519 (2 CDs: 119:50 Text and Translation)

Over the last two generations or so, Australian music has thrived. Such stylistically diverse composers as Percy Grainger, Don Banks, and Peter Sculthorpe have long made their marks. Closer to our moment, Matthew Hindson has produced scores that, like Osvaldo Golijov’s, successfully integrate pop styles into classical concert music. Enter David Lumsdaine (b.1931). The key to the music on these discs is found in his Australian Soundscapes . These are onsite and edited recordings of nature sounds, often featuring exotic (to my New Jersey ears) birdcalls and, in one case, a veritable frog symphony. When I listen to these tracks, I think of Olivier Messiaen and his lifelong transcribing of bird songs that would later, to a greater or lesser extent, drive the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic structure of his composition. My late wife, who was an accomplished folk singer, often stated that folk music was the ultimate basis of all the music that we deem classical. On this disc Lumsdaine, like Messiaen, takes that notion farther—the basis of all music can be found in the sounds of nature. To quote Anthony Gilbert’s liner notes as to the specific quality of Australian birdcalls: “They do it in harmony. In a given territory, which may occupy no more than a few hundred square meters, the birds of all native species sing in tune with one another and with an unstated but identifiable harmonic series built on an unheard fundamental tone. As with any natural harmonic series, the higher the notes, the closer the pitches, but rarely, if ever, do the singers deviate from the harmonic spectrum. So we hear diatonic phrases in the lower ranges, then chromatic, and rare examples of microtonal singing near the upper limits of audibility.” Each piece on this offering is preceded by a Soundscape that embodies and defines its musical essence. This pattern holds until disc 2, which opens with Soundscape 5 —the definer and illuminator of Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek for solo recorder, A Norfolk Songbook for soprano and recorder, and Cambewarra for solo piano.

Lumsdaine is a master of scale. Most of these pieces are aphoristic miniatures. A Little Cantata—Tracy Chadwell In Memoriam is in five sections which combined occupy 3:51. The six movements of Six Postcard Pieces for solo piano take 4:45, and Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek for solo recorder times in at 2:26. Like all successful miniatures, these encompass complete musical universes in their tiny durations. On the other end of the spectrum, A Tree Telling of Orpheus for soprano and chamber ensemble and Cambewarra for solo piano clock in at 24:33 and 31:20 respectively. These longer pieces are hypnotic. In them one loses all sense of time and comes away with a feeling of time (however much it was) well spent.

This is music of profound stillness despite its often disjunct, almost Webernesque intervals and moments of rapid-fire note clusters. Soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers is unflappable in the face of this music’s demands. Given her accuracy of pitch, tone production, and excellent diction, she fully realizes the poetry of the texts before her. Recorder virtuoso John Turner becomes a cosmic bird; pianist Peter Lawson comfortably, indeed joyously, navigates the daunting demands of Cambewarra ; and cellist Jonathan Price does honor to Blue Upon Blue . The recorded sound is first-rate by current standards.

A quick perusal of Wikipedia (the Cliffs Notes of our moment) tells me that David Lumsdaine retired from composition in 1996, to which I say, more’s the pity.

The title of this two-disc release says it all— White Dawn . Too bad you had to read all that stuff above this last paragraph.

FANFARE: William Zagorski


"As a way of making what may or may not be music, placing microphones into urban or rural environments and assembling soundscapes in the studio from sounds you harvest is a controversial way to make art. Classical music snobs, fond of preaching about what music “should” be – better, surely, to think about what the thing we love “could” be? - are minded to pooh-pooh field recordings by pointing out that anyone can stick a microphone anywhere. Then again, any fool might have twigged that three Gs followed by E flat was a smart way to open a symphony; only one man did, though, and to luddites everywhere I say it’s not the material, it’s what you do with it that counts.

By taking five of Sydney-born David Lumsdaine’s field-recording-derived Australian soundscapes and interweaving them between his meticulously organised instrumental and chamber pieces, this superb anthology reveals what a false dichotomy the whole field recording/ “conventional” composition debate can be. Lumsdaine’s soundscapes are as concerned with inner dialogues, counterpoint and structure as anything he commits to manuscript paper. Yes, art based on birdsong or on cicadas calling stimulates different sorts of response to music written for piano or cello but either way, Lumsdaine snatches empiric sound sources from an open-ended world of possibilities . . .

. . . like how his solo cello Blue upon Blue (1991) plays modally inflected melodic cycles off against scattering percussive pizzicato figurations; or how those chirping landscapes typical of his field recordings permeate inside the precisely crafted and aphoristic A Little Cantata (1996), where soprano voice and recorder quiver and hum together like two crickets on heat, an approach A Tree telling of Orpheus (1990) uses over the larger scale.

But the best is last. The 30-minute solo piano Cambewarra (1980) is predicted on an assumption of space and silence which Lumsdaine delicately loads with fleeting mechanisms and modal melodies weighty enough to enhance, rather than pollute, the harmony of underlying stillness. These performances, by musicians associated with the Gemini Ensemble, prove deeply sensitive to Lumsdaine’s needs, with a special nod going to pianist Peter Lawson for negotiating Cambewarra’s secret labyrinths with such clarity of mind and finger."

-- Phillip Clark, Gramophone

An unusual but rewarding feature of this pair of CDs is the five Australian Soundscapes that intersperse Lumsdaine’s own works presented in the programme. Though recorded at specific locations (Soundscape I is entitled ‘The billabong at sunset’) or to capture particular sounds (II and III are titled ‘Frogs at night’ and ‘Raven Cry’) they are not, as the notes explain, ‘passive’ recordings, but ‘carefully-edited assemblages, composed’, as Lumsdaine himself explains, ‘to celebrate Anthony Gilbert’s 70th birthday.’ Tellingly, Soundscape IV has the title ‘Serenade’. Lumsdaine does not imitate birdsong or the other sounds in his music, but the underlying gestures, modality and, indeed, the ‘counterpoint’ of the soundscapes suffuse the textures of many of his compositions, particularly the lengthy, three-sectioned Cambewarra for solo piano (1980), which concludes the second CD.

A Norfolk Songbook for soprano and recorder (1992), and A Little Cantata – Tracey Chadwell in memoriam, for soprano, recorder and piano (1996) set the composer’s own poems, and were composed with the voice of Tracey Chadwell in mind, sadly in the case of A Little Cantata, posthumously. Both works exhibit a remarkably delicacy of texture and, for many of the individual songs, a Webern-like brevity. The twelve songs that make up A Norfolk Songbook were inspired by Lumsdaine’s own response to the Norfolk landscape, the calm of which was disrupted for a while in 1986 when the USA used Norfolk as a base to launch air attacks on Libya. But a simple calm is maintained throughout the cycle which nevertheless displays considerable contrast of texture, and inventive independence of vocal and instrumental lines. Just three short poems are set in A Little Cantata, there being an instrumental introduction and an instrumental interlude between the first and second songs.

There is a similar brevity in Six Postcard Pieces for solo piano (1994), yet in the space of as little as twenty-two seconds Lumsdaine says all that is necessary to convey his musical ideas. The declamatory dotted rhythms of the opening ‘Overture’ and the repeated-note energy of the final ‘Toccata’ are typical of his conciseness.

The remaining vocal work in the programme, A tree telling of Orpheus, for soprano and an instrumental ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, viola and cello (1990), is much more extended, but has the same transparency of interplay between vocal line and accompaniment found in the shorter works. There are also passages of simple and beautiful calm over hazy harmonies that reflect the many musical references in East Anglian-born Denise Levertov’s poem.

Two instrumental works complete the programme: Blue upon Blue for solo cello (1991), in which long, lyrical melodic lines are interrupted and accompanied by pizzicato phrases, and contrasted with more vigorous interjections, ends quietly and reflectively; Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek for solo sopranino recorder (1994) was composed for Anthony Gilbert’s 60th birthday and recalls an experience he shared with Lumsdaine as they recorded the songs of the Grey Shrike-thrush, the Spotted Pardalote and the Indian Koel. The microtonal inflections of the latter are present in this little piece of pure birdsong.

All the performers enter Lumsdaine’s musical world with skill and enthusiasm, and perform a representative programme of his music with which any composer would be delighted. Thanks to this pair of CDs we can also enjoy exploring the works of one of Australia’s most creative and individual musicians.

-- Andrew Mayes, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Soundscapes I - V by David Lumsdaine
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gemini
A Little Cantata "Tracey Chadwell in Memoriam" by David Lumsdaine
Performer:  Lesley-Jane Rogers (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996 
Blue upon blue by David Lumsdaine
Performer:  Jonathan Price (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991 
Postcard Pieces (6) by David Lumsdaine
Performer:  Peter Lawson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1995 
A Tree Telling of Orpheus by David Lumsdaine
Performer:  Lesley-Jane Rogers (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990 
Metamorphosis at Mullet Creek by David Lumsdaine
Performer:  John Turner (Recorder)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994 
A Norfolk Songbook by David Lumsdaine
Performer:  Lesley-Jane Rogers (Soprano), John Turner (Recorder)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1992 
Cambewarra by David Lumsdaine
Performer:  Peter Lawson (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1980 

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