Malcolm Layfield

Lefanu: Catena for Eleven Solo Strings; String Quartet No. 2; Clarinet Concertino

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Nicola LeFanu's music may be modernist in expression and technique, yet it is extremely approachable for its ardent lyricism, delicious harmonies, and almost magical use of instrumental color. This 2004 Naxos release serves as a fitting introduction to this highly original composer, for the chamber works presented here are all first-rate, and the performances by the Goldberg Ensemble, directed by Malcolm Layfield, are clear, coherent, and compelling. The String Quartet No. 2 exemplifies LeFanu's strongest traits, and though it is quite concise and fleeting, it impresses with its rich textures, flexible gestures, and shimmering string timbres. The Concertino for clarinet and string orchestra is more expansive and discursive, yet the startling contrasts between Fiona Cross' pungent clarinet part and the brooding accompaniment sustain interest throughout. The Canción de la luna for countertenor and string quartet is a setting of a poem by Federico García Lorca, and Nicholas Clapton delivers the haunting lyrics with a mixture of quiet apprehension and operatic terror. The disc's major work, Catena for 11 solo strings, is the most complete representation of LeFanu's methods, for she combines the fine details of her intimate chamber writing with a nearly orchestral massiveness, and the work's shifting combinations are utterly fascinating. Naxos provides exceptional sound.

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