Three Consorts, George Benjamin’s set of Purcell transcriptions for chamber orchestra, will be premiered by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Benjamin at the BBC Proms on 30 August, before performances in Hamburg and Berlin. The programme centres around the eagerly anticipated world premiere of Benjamin’s Concerto for Orchestra.


Lasting around 11 minutes, the transcriptions are scored for: 2(=picc).2.2.2 – 2220 – per(1): t.bells / Korean temple bell / tgl – strings ( All violins and violas require practice mutes, except for the front desks


Benjamin writes:


Though normally played by consorts of viols, a degree of ambiguity regarding the intended instrumentation for these extraordinary pieces gave me the green light to make transcriptions for modern chamber orchestra.


These orchestrations express my intense attachment to this music while, at the same time, exploring – and, indeed, exposing – the fabric of its intricate polyphony.


The setting of In Nomine 1 is archaic in tone, except for a visionary moment of harmonic stasis near the middle of the piece. The cantus firmus is given to hocketed brass in the centre of the texture.


With its mesmerising intersection of line and harmony, Fantazia 7 changed my path as a composer; this is my second attempt at transcribing it (the first, for the 1995 Aldeburgh Festival, was scored for clarinet, violin, cello and celesta). On this occasion, the orchestra is reduced to strings and a pair of muted horns. Most of the material is given to the front desks, while the remaining players (using practice mutes) sporadically surround them with a halo of sound.


This transcription of Fantazia on One Note emphasizes the wide (and enchanting) diversity of moods Purcell is able to conjure despite the unbroken presence of a static middle C from first bar to the last.