NICOLA LEFANU (b.1947): The Hidden Landscape (BBC Symphony Orchestra; Norman del Mar), Columbia Falls (RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra; Colman Pearce), Threnody (RTÉNSO; Gavin Maloney), The Crimson Bird (Rachel Nicholls [soprano], BBC Symphony Orchestra; Ilan Volkov).
Catalogue Number: 10W055
Description: These works were composed over a 45-year span, two at the beginning, and two recently. The early, landscape-inspired works were written in the 1970s, when a good deal of modernism was in the air, and while LeFanu has never been an avant-gardist, these powerful evocations of place, in their tangible presentation of different perspectives, as though viewing a panorama and then paying close attention to details, then "zooming out" again, are formed of fugitive impressions in different layers. The orchestration is ingenious and evocative; one hears nature sounds without actual imitation, and the harmony is rich, not avoiding tonal referents but not necessarily pursuing them either. The Crimson Bird (2017) has a closer connection to tonality, and a more continuous sense of narrative and dramatic flow; in a word it sounds much more neo-romantic, though it is unquestionably from the same pen, with the same highlighting of solo voices and groups within the orchestra, and the same evocative colours and timbres. The work is based on Euripides' "The Trojan Women", to a newly written text by the poet John Fuller, whose poem "Siege" was commissioned especially for this work. The composer's long experience with opera and song is very evident in the dramatically gripping, not to say harrowing, vocal part, describing from a mother's perspective the pain and fear of having a son involved in conflict, while the orchestra contributes a sumptuously scored, harmonically gorgeous symphonic poem in its own right. Threnody, three years earlier, is a related work, a lament, for the boy Astynax, murdered lest he grow up to be as brave as his father Hector, in Brendan Kennelly’s version of Euripides’ tragedy. It could be a study for the much larger cycle, with much of the same emotional impact, sense of tragedy and profusion of orchestral detail. Texts included.