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Programme Notes

This sequence of pieces, all canons in different ways, was conceived as a continuous, cumulative structure: 1) A brief, seemingly improvisatory prologue. 2) The high register, fierce and harshly chromatic, against the lower, which is consonant and calm; a compact coda reconciles these opposites. 3) A miniature scherzo, all within the space of 11/2 octaves in the bass, leading immediately to: 4) Explosive and monolithic, the pianist’s hands perpetually rifting apart then re-uniting in rhythmical unison. 5) The most expansive and lyrical movement; at its heart a slow ground-bass, over which builds a widely contrasted procession of textures. After a short pause: 6) A simple and gentle epilogue. This work was written for Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and was commissioned by Betty Freeman.

© George Benjamin


‘Aimard, a long-standing friend of the composer, had to wait almost two decades for Benjamin to produce another piano work, but the wait has been worth it. The score, lasting nearly 15 minutes, is crafted with all the composer’s trademark fastidiousness, and each of the six movements features canonic imitation. This music also displays a French feeling for colour and texture: Benjamin is, after all, almost an honorary French composer. Yet the biggest movement, given impetus by a ground bass, has Beethovenian logic. Indeed there is a clarity about everything that does not stop the music from speaking directly, at least when it is played as brilliantly as here, with the technical hurdles disguised by Aimard’s apparently effortless washes of colour. An important new work.’
The Times (John Allison), 17 February 2003

‘Shadowlines was composed in 2001 for the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, a friend of Benjamin since they were students together at the Paris Conservatoire in the 1970s. It is a sequence of six short movements designed to build into a single cumulative structure. Each of the components is a different kind of canon, though not always a canon as we would recognise it. In some the intervals contract or expand between entries, in others the rhythmic values are compressed or extended. The result is absorbing, by turns wirily thematic (recalling the world of the Four Studies by Benjamin and Aimard's teacher Messiaen) and luminously impressionistic (harking back to an earlier generation of French composers), and always precisely imagined for Aimard's exceptional gifts.’
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 15 February 2003

‘… a masterly piece in six "canons". Each of them stretches the old canon-form in some different way, superbly conceived in terms of everything that Aimard can do best: which is a lot – we must wait to hear whether another pianist can ever play it so lucidly, especially the superimposed-hands passages. It has the transparent density, variety and concision of a Haydn symphony – and real Innigkeit, and even comedy too, for it's far more than a brilliant academic-pianistic exercise. It stands to tonality as the poet Cavafy was said to stand to the universe, "at a slight angle".’
Financial Times (David Murray), 19 February 2003

‘… the first major piano work of the 21st century… Technical rigour and ingenuity lie behind everything, as they do in Bach; but as in Bach, they disappear in the expression of feeling – the impression of the piece is of free fantasy.’ 
The Boston Globe (Richard Dyer), 22 July 2003 


Bertrand Chamayou


Ca’ Giustinian – Sala delle Colonne (Venice, Italy)

Bertrand Chamayou