Nicola LeFanu: The Crimson Bird

Nicola LeFanu: The Crimson Bird

NMC Recordings
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Release Date: 25 September 2020

Here, for the first time together, are four of Nicola LeFanu’s remarkable orchestral landscapes, written over a 45 year period. They are hidden and revelatory, imagined and remembered, liminal and arcadian, raw and sophisticated. Of all the works in her prolific output (including operas, music theatre, chamber works, songs) it is perhaps in these large-scale orchestral pieces that LeFanu’s exploratory spirit stands out the most, translating the language of each landscape she traverses into a unique sonic topography. – Kate Romano (liner notes extract)

'LeFanu is renowned for works of imaginative beauty, often drawing on diverse extra-musical prompts' (BBC Music Magazine). The Hidden Landscape was commissioned by the BBC and first performed at the BBC Proms, 7 August 1973. It is this live recording (digitally remastered) that opens the album. Listening to this piece, and the work that follows (Columbia Falls) is rather like looking at the overall shape and contour of a landscape towards a distant horizon. LeFanu is, in life as well as art, a traveller and never happier than when she is outdoors. ‘I am not an urban person’ she says, ‘I need to be outside, using ears and eyes’.

The short orchestral piece Threnody was inspired by Brendan Kennelly’s The Trojan Women (his version of Euripides’ tragedy) which was to become the catalyst for LeFanu's much larger work, The Crimson Bird. The text is from the poem Siege by John Fuller and examines the bond between mother and son as it is tested within an environment of war and terror. LeFanu says 'It's an exploration of love, fear and death. Siege has a universal scope that speaks to human experience throughout time. Coverage from conflict zones under siege fill our TV screens every day.'

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Norman del Mar 
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Colman Pearce 
Gavin Maloney 
Rachel Nicholls 
Ilan Volkov 





'It’s fascinating to hear the 1973 world premiere of The Hidden Landscape, which prefigures some of George Benjamin’s recent work in terms of sonorities – but the main event here is the title-work, an intensely dramatic 25-minute monologue for soprano and orchestra setting a poem by John Fuller and portraying a desperate mother trapped in a city under siege; it’s powerfully sung (and with immaculate diction) by Nicholls, a celebrated Wagnerian who rides the thick orchestration with ease' Presto Classical

'The results are impressive and confident, a testament both to Lefanu's skill at writing for large forces and the players' understanding of her style.' ★★★★ Planet Hugill


Special thanks to PRS Foundation Composers' Fund, Ambache Charitable Trust, RVW Trust, Golsoncott Foundation and John S Cohen Foundation for their support of this album. 

PRSF   Ambache   


The Hidden Landscape was recorded by the BBC at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London on 7 August 1973. From the BBC archives (extracted from tape by the BBC using modern techniques and digitally remastered)

The Crimson Bird was recorded at the Barbican, London on 17 February 2017.
BENEDICT WARREN Recording Producer

Threnody was recorded at the National Concert Hall, Dublin on 13 January 2015 as part of the RTé National Symphony Orchestra’s Horizons 2015 series for NOVA RTÉ Lyric FM.
From the RTÉ archives
Eoin Brady Recording Producer

Columbia Falls was recorded at the National Concert Hall, Dublin on 19 September 1997
From the RTÉ archives
Johnny Devlin Recording Producer

Catalogue number: NMC D255
Release Date: 25 September 2020