Benjamin: Three Inventions; Upon Silence; Sudden Time; Octet

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COMPOSERS: Benjamin
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Three Inventions; Upon Silence; Sudden Time; Octet
PERFORMER: Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano) Fretwork, London Sinfonietta, LPO/George Benjamin
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5505
For whatever reason, George Benjamin has been very fortunate in having so much of his music recorded on disc, especially when several of his comparably talented and arguably more imaginative contemporaries are presently under-represented in the catalogue. This latest CD spans Benjamin’s entire composing career from the relatively youthful Octet, a conventional though ravishingly scored dialogue between arching lyricism and nervous glitter, composed soon after his studies with Messiaen, to the dense orchestral tapestry of Sudden Time, his first extended work following a period of creative inactivity, and the recent Three Inventions for orchestra, which signals the assimilation of a more sharply defined rhythmic sense into the well-stocked compositional armoury though with some loss of individuality.

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Like the music on the previous discs these pieces reaffirm Benjamin’s prodigious technical means while raising doubts as to the wider expressive ends to which they’re put: the music’s emotional reticence seems to sit uneasily with the pliable, subjective nature of the material. Perhaps because of the unusual medium, the most successful work here is Upon Silence, the resourceful setting of TS Eliot’s ‘Long-legged fly’ for voice and viols (also included here for voice and modern strings), beautifully sung by Susan Bickley, where Benjamin draws out a dazzling diversity of textures which aptly compliment the richly allusive nature of his chosen text. Antony Bye