Ensemble Modern

George Benjamin: Palimpsests

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George Benjamin's kaleidoscopic chamber and orchestral works turn primarily on instrumental colors and textures, rather than on thematic development or abstract formulas; it is on this basis that his music succeeds, and succeeds admirably. Without his subtle and imaginative orchestration, Benjamin's music might seem disjointedly gestural, pointillistic and diffuse, and it would lose its clarity and depth. To be sure, Benjamin's preoccupation with developing a workable atonal theory and his complicated contrapuntal methods sometimes lead to dense, impenetrable music, often when he writes for piano. But in his orchestral works, shapes and lines emerge clearly and naturally, growing out of the instruments' most effective ranges, and merge in original, heterogenous combinations which are fascinating to explore. Through the layers and superimposed figurations of Palimpsests, the scintillating timbres and active counterpoint for brass in At First Light, the delicate overlapping of strings and winds in Sudden Time, and the muted hues of Olicantus, Benjamin reveals himself as a master colorist, undeniably in the line of Messiaen and Boulez. Ensemble Modern and the Ensemble Modern Orchestra, under Oliver Knussen, are captivating in their vivid performances, which range from the softest possible dynamics to climaxes of tremendous force, and Nimbus provides superb sound to match.

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