A New Recording of George Benjamin's ‘Palimpsests’

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With its myriad musics constantly colliding and combining, a work as richly layered as Palimpsests almost demands multiple recordings. Now, to complement Ensemble Modern’s vivid account on Nimbus, comes a new recording from the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (also conducted by the composer). 

 

 

 

From the intricate grisaille of wire-brushed side drums that acts as a discreet backdrop to much of the work’s drama, to the breathless closing minutes, where piccolos and cowbell are pitted against dizzying volleys of brass, this 2012 NEOS recording from Munich’s Musica Viva brilliantly captures the score’s many intricate details, further enriching our understanding of this masterpiece.

‘Benjamin’s performance of [Ligeti's] Lontano is exceptional for its transparency and its wonderfully controlled sense of mystery, as if the real key to the music is always just out of reach... Like all the best music, Palimpsests makes up its own structural rules as it goes along, defining its aims and achieving them with total success.’

The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 8 September 2016

 

and a dazzling companion piece

Scored for the same wind-heavy ensemble as Palimpsests (with the addition of a cor anglais), Benjamin’s ingenious transcription of Nicolas De Grigny’s Récit de Tierce en Taille makes an ideal pairing with his own work. Both the spirit and the unusual flavour of this jewel of Baroque organ music are brilliantly captured as Benjamin, inspired by De Grigny’s idiosyncratic registrations, frequently ‘illuminates’ the work’s central melody with parallel harmonics which constantly change in both depth and timbre.

‘It took something already pungently ornate and highly coloured and made it even more so, evoking the richly coloured stops of a French Baroque organ without ever stooping to imitation.’

The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 27 July 2004