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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Catena for 11 Solo Strings; Concertino for Clarinet & Strings; Canción de la luna; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Fiona Cross (clarinet), Nicholas Clapton (countertenor); Goldberg Ensemble/ Malcolm Layfield
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557389
Nicola LeFanu, daughter of the composer Elizabeth Maconchy, was a rising young star in the 1970s. But then she seems to have dropped out of fashion. So it’s useful to have this update on her work from Naxos. More than ‘useful’, in fact: the main work, Catena for 11 Solo Strings, is a piece of real individuality and substance, making highly expressive use of the contrast between natural tuning, microtones and the equal temperament on which Western classical music has been based since the time of Bach. Inspired by the landscape of the high Pyrenees where Lefanu wrote the score, Catena is a work of surprising modern-Romantic poetry, with flashes of delicious lyricism. It’s the lyrical side of LeFanu – also strongly evident in the other three works – which appeals most on first hearing. I’m not always so convinced by the spiky, angular outbursts (tempting to call them ‘old-fashioned modernism’) that pepper the music. But these do at least make for contrast, and the sustained, tender melodic writing in the closing pages of String Quartet No. 2 is all the more moving for having emerged from this harsher terrain. The performances are authoritative, secure and expressive. I’d have liked a slightly warmer recorded sound, but the clarity is admirable. Stephen Johnson

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