Benjamin: Palimpsests; At First Light; Sudden Time; Olicantus

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LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Palimpsests; At First Light; Sudden Time; Olicantus
PERFORMER: Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Modern Orchestra/George Benjamin, Oliver Knussen
Nimbus released its first discs of George Benjamin’s music in the Eighties, and the association continues to flourish. Alongside a pair of recent orchestral works, Palimpsests I and II and Olicantus, recorded for the first time, this latest collection – all vivid, intense performances and equally detailed recordings compiled from Benjamin’s concerts with Ensemble Modern and its bigger offspring the Ensemble Modern Orchestra – offers new versions of two works included on previous Nimbus releases. There is the musical impression of a Turner painting, At First Light, composed for the London Sinfonietta in 1982, and a dazzling tour de force of orchestral virtuosity, and Sudden Time, the wonderfully fluent exploration of musical time and experiential time whose completion in 1993 signalled the removal of the creative block that had affected him in the late Eighties. The two Palimpsests, the first a 75th-birthday tribute to Boulez in 2000, the second composed for the LSO two years later, are studies in musical layering, hence the title – a palimpsest is a manuscript whose original text has been overlaid with accretions. The pieces embody the idea aurally, and show how Benjamin’s music has deepened and changed its emphasis, just as the sound-world for Olicantus, composed for Oliver Knussen’s 50th birthday in 2002, seems far more restrained than in the earlier works, more concerned with expressive lines than florid gestures. Andrew Clements