||Discography and Reviews
Nicola LEFANU - Mira Clar Tenebras; Lament; Soliloquy
Elizabeth MACONCHY - Morning, Noon & Night; Miniature; Reflections
METIER records MSV CD 92064
Released summer 2005 REVIEWS
||Philip GRANGE - Diptych; The Knell of Parting Day
Jinny SHAW - The House of Asterion
Howard SKEMPTON - Three Preludes; Horizons
Lynne PLOWMAN - Floating, Turning, Spinning; The Mermaid's Lagoon
Judith BINGHAM - The Island of Patmos
'Horizons - New
Music for Oboe and Harp'
Jinny Shaw - oboe : Lucy Wakeford - harp
ASC Records asc | sound
||Philip GRANGE - Diptych:
i) Sky-Maze with Song Shards for oboe and harp
ii) Daedalus’s Lament for cor anglais and harp
and other works
Zeitgeist : Music by Philip Grange
Jinny Shaw - oboe : Lucy Wakeford - harp
Campion Cameo British Composers Series 2061
1 Secret Forest (Art Respirant/ Takaseki)
2 Rubi(co)n (Kate Romano, clarinet)
3 Phantom Pulse (Lucerne Festival Percussion Group/ Cerutti_
4 Eternal Escape (Adrian Bradbury, cello)
5 Touch of Breeze
6 Breathing Tides
7 Cutting Sky
9 Okeanos Breeze
Dai Fujikura's CD 'Secret Forest'
|To obtain CDs please contact
"Secret Forest" review in Gramophone Magazine December 2012 ***** 5 stars
NMC's Debut Discs series continues with a timely profile of Dai Fujikura – Osaka-born, London-based, whose music is an intriguing synthesis of Japanese idioms ancient and modern from the vantage of one who, early on, had absorbed the essence of the European. A well-programmed sequence opens with Secret Forest (2008), its resourceful combining of strings and wind – physically divided between stage and auditorium in live performance – creating a keenly imaginative sound world, utopian in aim and realisation. If the percussion writing of Phantom Pulse (2006) is more overtly redolent of post-war models, the later stages are suffused with a timbral resonance poised unerringly between occidental and accidental archetypes. Alternating with these are engaging studies for clarinet and cello that amply underline Fujikura's prowess, the latter prefacing Okeanos (2010) – his most ambitious attempt yet at a cultural amalgam, that brings clarinet, oboe and viola into a productive relationship with sho and koto, the eastern instruments' respectively ethereal and strident tones adding much to the ensemble interplay of the final movement with its deft evocation of musical otherness.
All the performances do Fujikura proud in their unbridled commitment and attentiveness to the smallest nuance. David Toop provides an illuminating overview of his often unlikely evolution...Natalie Braune's cover artwork too, feels entirely appropriate as an adjunct to the music of the most distinctive and thought-provoking younger composers.
"Secret Forest" review on www.5against4.com, 2012
Caught betwixt the extremes of attraction & resistance is the music of Dai Fujikura (born in Osaka but resident in England since his mid-teens). The forthright independence of Fujikura's compositional manner is striking, eschewing the styles & mannerisms of his birthplace; indeed, "Everytime I see some 'Japanesenesses' in my own score when I am composing, I delete them". The five pieces on his disc comprise three substantial ensemble works & two brief solos, all very different in nature & instrumentation. What unites them is a fresh relationship with lyricism, one that allows Fujikura the possibility to go where his ideas take him, where unexpected episodes or shifts feel entirely comfortable (a quality he shares with Takemitsu, but for entirely his own reasons). The sudden bassoon cadenza in Secret Forest is an almost shockingly fragile hiatus in what is otherwise a dense & homogeneous work, dominated by huge bursts of string activity, while the latter half of Phantom Pulse somehow abruptly navigates from percussive bombast to a cloud of resonant lacework with no ill effects. But it's the closing work, Okeanos, that shows off Fujikura's skill best, the introduction of sho & koto contributing in no small part to its deeply hypnotic (& at times gorgeous) five movements.
"Secret Forest" Graham McKenzie liner notes for NMC sampler CD
When NMC first invited me to curate a sampler CD from their catalogue and archive I knew instantly that I would include a track from one of the label's latest releases – Secret Forest – a portrait CD of composer Dai Fujikura. This is an astonishingly confident collection of work from a young composer who must now, even at this relatively early stage, be considered an important and original voice. Any follower of Fujikura on Twitter will be aware of the global interest in his work. For me what sets Fujikura apart from his peers, however, is a refusal to be pigeon-holed and the extent to which he is willing to embrace risk. His music is informed by a wide and diverse range of interests and collaborative practice which includes rubbing shoulders with intelligent pop (David Sylvian), live remix (Jan Bang), and the cream of British improvisation (Evan Parker, John Butcher).
In truth I could have happily selected any of the tracks from this consistently superb recording, but in the end I found myself returning frequently to Sakana from the Okeanos cycle, both the version included here featuring the wonderful Kate Romano on clarinet, and the fragile and haunting version for solo tenor saxophone, performed by Masanori Oishi on Fujikura's own web site.
Zeitgeist CD review Christopher Thomas Musicweb-international, 2007
Designed to be performed either individually or together the two contrasting pieces that comprise Diptych could indeed stand alone perfectly well. The references to Sky-Maze with Song Shards that increasingly surface in Daedalus’s Lament do however lend a certain unity to the pairing, despite the very different atmospheres that permeate each piece. In Sky-Maze, inspired by the swooping and diving of birds in flight, Grange places much of the writing in the upper reaches of the instrument’s registers creating often beguiling sounds of captivating movement and beauty. The darker tones of the cor anglais are finely suited to Daedalus’s lamentations for the loss of his son. In both cases the performances by Okeanos are beautifully shaped, in music that displays a differing aspect of Grange’s considerable musical imagination.
Richard Whitehouse, GRAMOPHONE Magazine, June 2007
Diptych (2002) contrasts the agility of oboe and harp in 'Sky-Maze with Song Shards' with the ruminative cor anglais and harp in 'Daedalus's Lament', the idea of flight leading to disaster apt as a memorial to 9/11. Jinny Shaw gives her all here.'
Reflections CD review
"Maconchy awaits a true re-assessment and as yet we lack a full understanding of her style and achievement. Nevertheless putting all of these pieces together, especially with the help of this new CD and its exquisite performances, certain conclusions and ideas emerge.
Elizabeth Maconchy is basically a diatonic composer. Her language can be intensely chromatic and sometimes it is modal. That said, she was never part of what was disparagingly termed ‘the cowpat school’. She also had the ability to make a long piece out of sometimes unpromising material. In many works practically every bar can be traced back to the first bars. You can hear this, for example, in the Third Quartet of 1938 where a bar of 4/4 time followed by a 5/8 pervades the entire one movement work. She creates power out of often grinding dissonances as at the climax point in the Nocturne of 1951. She also writes logical and continuous counterpoint. The opening ideas in the Overture Proud Thames recorded by Lyrita do exactly that. If this sounds a little cerebral, and it certainly is not, it seems to me that she later also became increasingly interested in colour. This is demonstrated on this new CD in the piece Reflections for viola, clarinet, oboe and harp. What a delicious combination this is. Used with such delicacy and subtlety it refracts light like the last vestiges of the winter sun.
She once said ‘I believe we should be passionately intellectual and intellectually passionate" a statement which sums up all of the above comments.
Nicola Lefanu is basically an atonal composer: one who uses, if she wishes, a tone row, or quarter tones or alleotoric techniques. It is also interesting to note something she said about her own Second Quartet which applies to the pieces recorded here. She wrote in the Naxos CD booklet mentioned above: "The musical thought is carried forward in a succession of images, contrasting but organically related". In this we are not a million miles away from her mother’s own compositional approach. Listen to Lefanu’s Lament which bravely opens the CD with its deliberately dark instrumental colouring. It begins with a keening descending slide through the quarter-tones. The piece then proceeds solemnly until a minute or so from the end when some kind of spiritual reconciliation is achieved; a quasi-plainsong idea, quite modal and quiet, ends the piece philosophically.
You can hear the two composers neatly adjacent with the two pieces for solo instruments. Although Lefanu’s Soliloquy for solo oboe, a piece she wrote whilst still at school, is five times longer than her mother’s Miniature it does not pack any more of a punch. Interestingly, it was written no less than 22 years before what transpired to be her mother’s last work.
The solo harp work by Maconchy Morning, Noon and Night was written for the Aldeburgh Festival of 1977 and has a touch of Britten about it. The harp is notoriously difficult to write for, as I know to my own cost. Of course it is a diatonic instrument but Maconchy mixes chromatisisms carefully with an individual form of modality to produce an original and slightly acerbic sound-world of great beauty. The first movement is a very good example of how she beavers away at a single idea but producing a surprising ending from ‘up her sleeve’. Both women write well for voices but Nicola Lefanu more so for the solo voice - Mira Clas Tenebras. This piece uses varied texts from the middle ages and earlier to create a nocturnal world contesting darkness and dawn. The same fleeting and fragile sound-world I remember from The Same Day Dawns, a piece with a similar theme, is present here. The texts are divided by brief instrumental commentaries – one for viola, one for harp, and one even for oboe d’amore. All quite fascinating.
I could go on, but instead I can only advise that you hunt the CD out. Some of the sounds on it will haunt you hours after you have returned it to its case." Gary Higginson
Reflections CD review, International Record Review July/August 2006
" There is something to be said for planning the content of records around composers who were members of the same family, for the juxtaposition can be more than merely interesting. This is especially true when the music is not, for whatever reasons, often encountered, but a danger is that not all members of the family might be equally gifted and the lesser figures get their music on the disc for non-artistic reasons. I welcome a new CD on the Metier label of music by Elizabeth Maconchy and her daughter Nicola Lefanu, for mother and daughter are equally significant figures in British music and yet inhabit very different artistic milieux. The music of Lefanu is considerably more ‘modern’ than that of her mother, yet all of this music is eminently worthwhile. The album is called ‘Reflections’ – the title of a piece from 1960 by Maconchy – and there are seven other works here, three by mother and four by daughter. They range from a tiny Miniature for solo oboe by Maconchy to a chamber cantata by Lefanu lasting just under 25 minutes, but including Maconchy’s Morning, Noon and Night (effectively a large-scale sonata for solo harp) and two songs by Lefanu, A Travelling Spirit, lasting five minutes overall and scored for voice and recorder. These very varied works are performed by the eight musicians who make up Okeanos, a recently formed new music group. Mother and daughter are very well served by them, and the recordings are excellent. Texts (with translations) are included and the notes are by Lefanu. There is a lovely picture of her standing in front of a portrait of her mother, who died in 1994 aged 87 (her centenary falls next year). Lefanu is married to composer David Lumsdaine, whose Variations for Orchestra (premiered at the Royal Festival Hall at an SPNM concert about 46 years ago) certainly deserves revival (Metier MSVCD92064, 1 hour 12 minutes)." Robert Matthew-Walker
Reflections CD review Tempo April 2006
"On a recent release on the Metier label, featuring chamber works by Lefanu and Elizabeth Maconchy, the most substantial work on the programme is Lefanu’s Mira Clas Tenebras, a 20-minute Nocturne for mezzo, viola, cor anglais/oboe d’amore and harp which consists of songs of darkness, sleep, dreams and dawn. Night is a key source of inspiration for the composer, featuring in the titles of many of her recent works. In the case of Mira Clas Tenebras, eloquent solos for the instrumentalists are sprinkled throughout the piece like nightlights, illuminating the expressive vocal line. The use of quarter-tones adds an appropriately exotic flavour. Three bell-like chords on the harp act as an idée fixe, perhaps representing the dawn, appearing at the end of the second and sixth songs and initiate the intricate harp solo’s shadowy introduction to the concluding song, ‘Tenebras’. Other Lefanu works featured in this well-filled disc include her fluent Soliloquy (1965) for solo oboe, persuasively interpreted by Jinny Shaw; A Travelling Spirit, turning the unusual but satisfying combination of soprano and recorder to expressive account; and the moving Lament (1988) for oboe, clarinet, viola and cello. The work was not written ‘in memoriam’, but was inspired by two simultaneous anniversaries: the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela, then still imprisoned, and the bicentenary of Australia, bringing with it reflections on the beginning of the end of Aboriginal population with the arrival of the English in 1788. Hence, there is a lingering, deep melancholy about the work, which does not achieve any catharsis but uses its dark instrumentation and frequent dying falls to reflect an inconsolable lamentation.
A small selection of her chamber work on the new Metier disc provides a timely reminder of Maconchy’s particular skills in the field of intimate music-making. Reflections (1960) for viola, clarinet, oboe and harp finds the composer at her most relaxed and good-humoured. The opening material, fertile enough to engender and sustain the material of the ensuing four-movement work, is both memorable and mysterious. The atmospheric Lento is a reminder of how easily she is able to conjure up entire worlds in a matter of minutes and one of the many pleasures throughout this immensely attractive work is the superbly idiomatic, inventive writing for each instrument. Morning, Noon and Night (1976) is a tour de force for solo harp, Maconchy sometimes making the instrument sound like an entire ensemble, such is the brilliance of the writing. Yet, the listener is never aware of any self-conscious cleverness; the composer’s craft is always firmly at the service of the music. ‘Miniature’ (1987) for solo oboe is a sparkling masterpiece: one of the last things she wrote, it finds genuine eloquence in a tiny fragment. Okeanos approach these scores with imagination and wit rooted in a firm and secure technique." Paul Conway
Horizons CD review Manchester Evening News.
"The House Of Asterion... is haunting and original music... Howard Skempton's miniatures... are bemusingly brief and attractive. Best of all are two works by Lynne Plowman... which are imaginative and at times really lovely." Robert Beale
Horizons CD review Manchester Sounds 2004
"The contemporary chamber music specialists Okeanos have produced an exceptionally well thought-out programme of music for oboe and harp. Two important themes run through the disc; one is that of classical Greek antiquity, perhaps inspired by the idea of the lyre and reed pipe (Philip Grange’s Diptych, based on the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, Jinny Shaw’s House of Asterion, based on Borge’s version of the Minotaur legend, and Judith Bingham’s The Island of Patmos, which weaves together visions of Artemis and Apollo with those of the Book of Revelation); the other theme is contemplation, whether of natural phenomena or of artworks (Grange’s The Knell of Parting Day, Lynne Plowman’s The Mermaids’ Lagoon and Floating, turning, spinning, Howard Skempton’s Three Preludes and Horizons). As well as duets, the programme includes solo works for each performer and also affords the oboist Jinny Shaw the opportunity to vary the tonal palette by using the cor anglais (in Grange’s Daedalus’ Lament) and the gorgeous oboe d’amore (in Floating, turning, spinning). One might expect this particular combination of instruments to produce exclusively delicate textures, but in fact there is a great deal of steely brilliance in the sound, particularly in Grange’s Diptych and in the fourth of Skempton’s Horizons. These two composers represent opposite poles of utterance. Grange builds long paragraphs of mounting intensity, during which the listener is drawn in by the expressive tension inherent in individual intervals or even individual notes – the tolling bell effect of The Knell being the clearest example. Skempton, on the other hand, creates gem-like miniatures of a more static quality. Of the other composers, Judith Bingham’s piece stands somewhat apart stylistically in its more Brittenesque exploitation of tonality, while in her own work Jinny Shaw demonstrates a fascinating array of contemporary performance techniques." Sam King